Volunteering week: “Volunteering has been so instrumental for me”

Our campaign manager in Wales, Claire O’Shea, was inspired to join the Campaign to End Loneliness after volunteering and meeting Jack the Dog (and his owner).

I came to work for the Campaign to End Loneliness after spending two years volunteering for a charity called The Cinnamon Trust. It’s a great charity that builds connections between older people who need support looking after their pets and people in the local area who can give a little bit of time on a regular basis.

It really demonstrated the value of volunteering. It can do wonders for your sense of belonging to a community and a quick chat in the morning to someone you see on a regular basis improves your sense of wellbeing.

In 2015 I was working incredibly long hours and travelling the length and breadth of Wales on weekly basis. I was living by myself and would think nothing of leaving work in the dark, making a quick dinner and then sitting down on the sofa to start working until bedtime. It was an unnecessary lifestyle but it was a lack of routine that made it hard to address.

The perfect solution

Claire and Jack the Dog

Claire and Jack the Dog

I’d had pets most of my life, and knew that they were a good motivation to get home from work to feed them and go to bed early so you could get in a long walk before work. I couldn’t make that kind of commitment though, I live in a first floor flat and I knew any animal would begin to feel a bit sorry for itself, listening to my terrible music and trying to find space for a nap amongst all my clutter.

That’s when I discovered Cinnamon Trust, it was a perfect solution, I got the positive aspects of exercise and a reason to leave work at 5pm. I ended up walking a lovely dog called Jack, an active little terrier, who had been living with his owner for a few years. His owner had a serious stroke and could no longer walk very far. His social network had also shrunk, so Jack was his main company.

Loneliness as a social issue

I really began to understand loneliness as a social issue: how easy it was to become lonely in later life through bereavement and ill health but also how much difference a small act of volunteering can make. I feel more connected to an area of Cardiff I knew little about, seeing familiar faces on a dog walk, saying hello to the neighbours, Jack’s owner tells me about the sporting history of many of the clubs we both follow. We’ve established a friendship that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.

Jack the dog sniffing some flowers

Jack the dog sniffing some flowers

A couple of times he has had to go into hospital, I’ve been able to visit him and reassure him that Jack is okay and being looked after. I recently experienced a death in my family, and continuing to walk Jack kept me in a routine, where it would have been easy to isolate myself. Jack’s owner has consistently provided shortbread and a sympathetic ear.

Volunteering has been so instrumental for me, Jack and Jack’s owner. We all feel like we have a meaningful friendship, we are able to support each other when needed. It’s definitely a reciprocal relationship, so it never feels intrusive or a burden. It has also informed my work and inspired me to apply to work for the Campaign to End Loneliness.

Meet new people (and dogs) and learn new skills by volunteering. #BeMoreUs and Visit Do-It.org to find volunteering opportunities near you