Anne Dempsey tells us about a day in the life of Senior Helpline volunteers. At 9.45am, the doorbell will ring at the Senior Help Line Dublin announcing help line volunteers arriving for duty.
They will be buzzed in by our administrator who will walk down to the floor below to welcome them. Each volunteer will then settle into their soundproof booth and wait for the calls to come.
Senior Help Line is open every day of the year from 10am to 10pm with two volunteers on each rota duty. The first call will often come a few minutes after 10am. It may be a regular caller, who has passed a lonely night and is delighted we are there to hear how he is, and learn about his day. Or it may be someone who has recently heard of the service, and is calling because she has a worry, or is in crisis. Each caller is welcomed with courtesy and warmth, and our volunteers too gain a lot from their role.
Mairead Flanagan has been volunteering for almost three years: “At this time in my life, I realise that many older people suffer the pain of loneliness, and opening it up through talking is essential. I absolutely love my work on the help line. I realise the value of talking to someone else when you have a problem or are on your own. I think it is a great service and very essential,” she says.
The calls may be coming very regularly as lunchtime draws near, presenting issues big and small. Some callers may want practical information and are signposted to another relevant service, while also being invited to share whatever is on their mind. At 1pm, a new pairing of volunteers arrive and take up duty. Senior Help Line has 170 trained volunteers, our unique selling point being a peer service – older people listening to older people – and the shared understanding that often confers.
At 4pm, it is all change again, with afternoon volunteers working until 7pm. Callers may now be in a different mood, some not looking forward to nightfall, (particularly during winter months), others wanting to tell us of their day. Senior Help Line receives over 800 calls per month, a range of issues including loneliness, isolation, health or financial worries, family conflict or elder abuse. As well as helping individual callers, the service gives a voice to callers – and to older people generally – by advocating on their behalf to government.
The last rota begins at 7pm. Two final volunteers arrive, and settle into listening to whatever comes. Some callers are nervous and need reassurance, others may be sad or worried, and many phone to say ‘good night’, glad that we are there. At 10 o’clock, our two volunteers switch off the lights in their room, and depart for home. Most will feel their duty has been rewarding, and Stephen, a volunteer, speaks for many: “If I get even one call, where I feel I have made a difference by listening and keeping someone company, it has been worthwhile,” he says.
Senior Help Line 1850 440 444 Open every day of the year 10am to 10pm, no landline call costs more than 30 cent.