Meet Check In and Chat volunteer Natalie, a 27-year-old American living in Belfast. “I had volunteered for a similar organization to Age NI while living in Boston, so when I moved to Belfast, I knew it was something I’d like to continue. When Covid hit and I saw Age NI was starting a new friendly phone call service, it was perfect timing to get involved.”

Natalie was introduced to her match, Pat, in May 2020, and the regular calls over the last year have been a positive experience for both of them. “I was living alone during lockdown last year, so we both benefited from having someone new to talk to. My family are all in the United States, so when I found out that Pat normally visits her son in Chicago several times a year, we had a lot in common to chat about. We talk about how hard it is being away from family, and we also share the day-to-day of our lives – funny things she has observed in her neighbourhood, stories about her dog, how much we both miss going to the hairdressers!”

Natalie has also benefited from a year of volunteer support from her Age NI coordinator. “I have been so encouraged by the fantastic volunteer support team. We were given initial training and we have regular check-ins, so I know if there was ever a problem or I needed guidance on how best to support Pat, I have resources to pull from. The service goes far beyond just a weekly call and can pick up on other little issues which might otherwise go unnoticed.”

While Natalie is returning to a slightly more normal version of life out of lockdown, she still cherishes the relationship she has formed with Pat and the good it will continue to do in both of their lives. “Pat has been in my life through a lot of ups and downs – we started out commiserating about living alone in lockdown, but in the last year we have learned so much about each other. She has been my biggest cheerleader as I went through the process of extending my working visa to stay in Belfast, and I love having good news to tell her when we chat. She is so enthusiastic and supportive, and I hope I have been able to provide as much of a positive experience for her as she has for me.”

We need your help to train and support more volunteers like Natalie, so that we can provide friendship calls to break the loneliness for more older people. Sadly, even as life returns to normal, isolation is a way of life for many of the 80,000 older people who live alone in Northern Ireland.

To donate to our Check In and Chat appeal visit our appeal page.