When Shirley Mansfield first heard about Rennie Grove’s volunteer-led befriending service, Supporting Hands, through one of our specialist nurses she thought it sounded helpful, but had no idea of the positive impact it would have on her life. More than two years on, and Shirley, 83, from Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, says Supporting Hands has contributed to her being able to stay in the home that she loves.
“I’ve lived in my home for 50 years,” Shirley said. “I nursed my husband Colin here before he sadly died from Alzheimer’s Disease, and we raised our children here. Home has also taken on even more meaning for me since I started coping with long-term illness. You can’t underestimate how much it means to me and I just want to be able to stay here.
“Rennie Grove has now been supporting me for two-and-a-half years. I have a chronic heart condition where three of my heart valves aren’t functioning properly, and other associated heart complications. The condition affects me physically by leaving me almost constantly breathless. I feel continually tired, and also my health issues do sometimes leave me feeling extremely depressed.
“I was very active before developing this condition. I was very much involved with local life and for 15 years ran a baby and toddler group to support new mothers in the village. Physically now I feel like I can’t do much. I do have a walking frame but I’m not very mobile, plus I fall very easily due to low blood pressure. Now, on top of everything else, my eyesight is failing as well. All of this means I find it very hard to get out – apart from when Sheila, my volunteer from Supporting Hands, comes to visit me.
“My condition has left me feeling quite isolated and I want to feel useful again. During the Coronavirus lockdown my general anxiety has really increased. I have found myself just sitting there worrying about others. Living alone is hard – that’s why Supporting Hands has made such a difference.
“It was one of the Rennie Grove nurses that first suggested Supporting Hands could be of benefit to me – both in terms of practical help with household tasks and for company. They try to match you up with someone you’ll get on with, and from the first time Sheila came out to see me we hit it off. She now usually comes to see me once a week, and during lockdown was calling every week to check I was ok.
“I completely trust her. When she visits we’ll have a coffee and a chat. I love listening to her stories about her holidays and her family, and she also has wonderful garden knowledge so we pass tips onto each other. Sometimes we go out and she drives me to the local garden centre. She also takes me to visit the church where my husband Colin is buried. And when I haven’t been able to go in person, Sheila has been up there to take a picture of the gravestone and flowers to show me, so that I can still be close to him. At Christmas time she helps me to wrap presents for my family. I don’t know what I would do without her.
“The companionship I’ve received through Supporting Hands is very important to me. I don’t want to sit and talk about my ailments, but the volunteers come to see you with their own aspect on life. Sheila is so lively that I always look forward to our conversations, and we have built a strong friendship. I can’t praise the Supporting Hands project enough.”
Volunteer Sheila Cathrow, from Chalfont St Giles, has been generously giving up her time for Rennie Grove for eight years, and part of the Supporting Hands project since September 2018.
“I first heard about Rennie Grove through my daughter and became a volunteer receptionist at the charity’s Gillian King House office,” Sheila explained. “I did that for five years, before becoming involved with the Supporting Hands project.
“I find volunteering for Rennie Grove very rewarding, particularly because it cares for people at such a local level. One day it could be me, my husband or a friend who needs them. When it comes to Supporting Hands I really enjoy my volunteering role – I’ve met some lovely people through the project. So far I’ve been matched with three patients, and I’ve been visiting Shirley since September 2018.
“It has just worked really well, I normally see Shirley every Wednesday morning and she’s such a lovely lady. I do a bit of gardening for her, and a couple of jobs around the house, but the main thing we enjoy doing together is to go out to the garden centre. We have a coffee and she enjoys looking at the different things there. Also at least twice a year I take Shirley to the cemetery where her husband is buried.
“Phone calls are sometimes hard for Shirley as her hearing isn’t the best, and she has been more anxious during lockdown, so whilst we have been speaking weekly, it was also very nice to do a socially distanced visit where I took my own coffee and sat in the garden while she sat in her conservatory. We’ve now resumed our weekly face to face visits.
“Supporting Hands is a fantastic project that helps to supports Rennie Grove’s nurses and the Hospice at Home service. Rennie Grove exists because people want to be cared for at home, and this project enables them to remain there.
“As a volunteer you can simply sit with someone – you don’t necessarily even have to say anything, but the service is really great from a social and companionship point of view. Little practical tasks that I can do easily for Shirley can seem like a massive hurdle for her.
“A patient might talk to you as a volunteer about things that they don’t want to discuss with someone close to them, and you also sometimes provide respite for their family members. It’s lovely to be able to make a difference.”