Phone Friends connects an older person with a volunteer who regularly phones them for a chat
A scheme tackling loneliness among older Scots is being expanded to help reach those who may have become even more isolated during the coronavirus crisis.
Food Train, the Scottish charity which helps older people to live better lives in their own homes, has opened its Phone Friends service to the general public after work to support its members during the pandemic highlighted the strong need for it.
It connects an older person with a volunteer who regularly phones them for a chat - giving them someone with whom they can share how they are and enjoy a laugh.
The service breaks down geographic barriers to friendship and is open to everyone aged 65 and over in Scotland, not just in the nine regions where Food Train operates a physical branch.
Morna O’May, who is overseeing Food Train’s Phone Friends service, said: “Covid has had a huge impact on older people who have had to shield and isolate. Because of the length of time this is going on for, they are losing confidence in being able to get back out and about again in public.
“It is creating a situation where people who had a connection to their community are losing that and those who were already isolated are feeling it even more keenly.
“The Phone Friend service is an ideal way to make connections again from the safe environment of your own home.”
Food Train first opened its Phone Friends to members after volunteers made check-in calls to older people during lockdown - to ensure people were well and had all they needed - when many were unable to enjoy the social side of shopping deliveries or days out organised by the charity.
That service to members has seen volunteers make 1,550 calls - chatting to older people for 28,000 minutes.
The response to it has been so positive that the service - which costs £5 per month to join - is being made available to non-members too. Phone calls can be weekly, fortnightly or less often if people wish.
O'May added: “Phone Friends allows a friendship to develop without having to involve any travelling or visiting which suits many older people and volunteers.
“Because of Covid and nervousness about meeting in person, this service provides an ideal opportunity to contact another person without any of that additional worry.
“We have volunteers vetted, trained and ready to be matched. Because it is a phone service, geography doesn’t matter - we can match an older person with a volunteer anywhere in Scotland.”
Jo Dallas, 47, of Gargunnock, near Stirling, is among the people who has been volunteering as a Phone Friend to Food Train members.
She said: “I think having the phone ring with a friendly voice every week makes such a positive difference to their lives.
“They know they can say what they like to me: if they want to grumble because they are having a bad day then they know I will quietly listen or if they have a story to share or something funny to joke about then we laugh together. Ultimately it's about human connection and friendship.”
Colette McIntyre, 46, executive director at Morgan Stanley Glasgow, is another of the volunteers and added: “The friendships you build through Phone Friends are fantastic. By speaking to someone every week you really get to know them, their likes and dislikes, as well as their hobbies and interests.
“You develop a good understanding about their lives and vulnerabilities and often find you have an awful lot in common. I have so much in common with one of my phone friends that I wonder if we are somehow related!”
McIntyre believes calls make a “world of difference” to older people and added: “On so many occasions my phone friends tell me how much they have looked forward to my call. For some, this is the only regular interaction they will have with another person, particularly as many older people are having to shield.”
For more information about Phone Friends, call 0800 048 9945 or email email@example.com