EDITH Pratt is a 93-year-old who lives in the northern part of Hayes. In her younger days, she was a tower of strength in the community, working as a volunteer at a number of churches, helping her neighbours and generally putting other peoples’ needs ahead of her own.
One episode stuck with her when she helped a neighbour who had collapsed.
She called the police and emergency services to break into her home and provide first aid. As Edith sat with the woman, the patient looked at her and said: “Fancy you bothering with an old lady like me...”
“She seemed so surprised,” said Edith, “as though no one ever worried about an old lady. I’ve never forgotten that.”
Which makes it all the more poignant that now Edith herself is confined to her home by failing health she regularly receives visits from the volunteers from Age UK’s befriending service.
“They are wonderful people,” she told me. “They come over every week and sit and chat to me.
“They keep me up to date with what’s going on in the world and they are always so caring. I honestly don’t think I’d still be here if it wasn’t for them.
“They’ve also helped me to get benefits I’m entitled to. I was struggling to pay all the bills – phone, gas, electricity, carers, etc – but they told me I was entitled to an attendance allowance and helped me fill in all the complicated forms. It’s made a huge difference.”
Edith has always written poetry although she denies she has any talent and simply says she is blessed because the words come into her head. Her poem, reprinted on the opposite page, sums up the contribution of the befrienders.
Michaela Sutton is the befriending coordinator for Age UK Hillingdon and she takes great care to try to match her clients to the most appropriate member of her team of nearly 60 volunteers.
She said: “When isolated old people are referred to us – sometimes by social services, sometimes by relatives – I go round and do a careful assessment of their needs and risks.
“It’s very much a person-centred assessment so that we know their interests, likes and dislikes in order to match them with the right people.
“It’s a really important thing to get right.
“To be a befriender, you have to be quite a strong person because you’re often dealing with people who are sad and lonely and who might actually be feeling some anger because of their situation.
“You have to be able to deal with those emotions.
“But the rewards from helping someone to feel valued and respected are enormous – we don’t usually have any trouble finding volunteers for this service.”
Another one of Age UK’s offerings, and there are many of them, is the handyman service.
I went out on a job with Ray Hallett, who has worked for the charity for 10 years and who is the handyman coordinator.
Ray, 59, was fitting a shower handrail for Rosalind and Norman Bowry of Stuart Crescent, a job he finished in minutes including cleaning up after himself, much to the delight of his customer.
Mr Bowry, 77, said: “It’s great to be able to contact Age UK and have them send someone round you know you can trust – it gives you a lot of peace of mind and they are always very friendly and helpful.”
Ray Hallett enjoys his job and clearly gets a real buzz from helping people.
He told me: “It’s very satisfying and worthwhile to do these little jobs for people who can no longer take them on themselves.
“Our team (there are five handymen in total) can take on most small jobs, including electrical work, plumbing, carpentry and tiling.
“We’ll do anything from changing a light bulb to fixing a leaking tap – jobs that most builders wouldn’t touch because they are too small.”
For many of these jobs there is no charge, but fitting the shower grab rail cost the Bowrys the princely sum of £17 – including the rail itself.
Ray said: “If we don’t get a tool out of the box we don’t charge anything, but because of funding cuts we do have to make a small charge for some jobs these days.”
For more information about the help and support available from Age UK, visit its website at www.ageuk.org.uk/hillingdon or call 020 8756 3040.
■ Next week, Mort writes about his visit to the Ageing Well group at Childs Court, in Hayes, and learns more about the services on offer for the elderly from staff at Age UK Hillingdon’s head office.