Phoning friends

128. Tessa Somerville (London)

A ‘Friends of the Elderly’ volunteer from central London has made over 2,500 friendly phone calls to older people to help combat loneliness and isolation.

The Prime Minister personally presented Tessa with her award at a reception in Downing Street to mark the end of a Number 10 partnership with the Friends of the Elderly which has seen Downing Street staff follow Tessa’s lead and volunteer with the charity.

Tessa Somerville, a befriending volunteer with Friends of the Elderly’s Phoning Friends service since 2007, has spent over 400 hours calling around 30 clients every month, offering a listening ear, friendship, support and signposting to other agencies for help when necessary. Tessa’s clients range from 65 to 96 years old and live across the country from Kent to Wales, yet all of them have been able to benefit from Tessa’s support.

A regular phone call can dramatically improve the quality of life of an older isolated person, who may not see or speak to another human being for days. Tessa’s 30 clients are also regular beneficiaries of Friends of the Elderly’s grant giving service which helps to ease their financial hardship. Tessa spends between 2-3 hours a week making calls, and over the years real bonds of friendship have formed. Tessa often continues to send cards when her client’s health deteriorates and they can no longer speak on the phone.

Friends Of The Elderly is encouraging everyone to help end loneliness by getting to know each other within their communities. Hundreds of individuals have already made a promise to Be a Friend including Downing Street staff who have been working in partnership with the charity over the last 18 months.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“For too many people growing old can be a time of loneliness and isolation. Friends of the Elderly’s Phoning Friends service is a life line, ensuring older people have someone to listen and support them. “Tessa has made a remarkable commitment to this valuable service, phoning 30 isolated older people month in and month out. I’m pleased to award her this Point of Light.”

Friends of the Elderly today also welcomed support from actress Joanna Lumley who said:

“I think Friends of the Elderly will be a lifeline for those who are lonely, afraid to go out or just depressed at being frail and on their own. We must all take special care of those important people, people in fact just like us, who are a bit further ahead in life’s journey. Let’s bring them into the warmth of the circle of our friendship; a phone call, dropping by, an odd postcard… such small things can make people (people like us) feel loved and valuable again. Let us all be Friends to the Elderly.”

Tessa said:

“I am honoured to receive this award, it is really unexpected. The people I talk to, from all walks of life, have one thing in common – loneliness. Phoning Friends has also helped me to make friends with inspirational people and I’m glad that I can brighten their day as well as leaving the office feeling much happier after speaking to them.”

Jules Attanayake, Phoning Friends Manager said:

“Tessa has inspired us all with her cheery approach, and larger than life personality! She embodies the dedicated volunteer that we would all like to be, and never lets her clients down. She is always there to offer support, friendship and a listening ear. We feel very lucky to have her, and the clients’ think the world of her!”

The daily Points of Light award recognises outstanding individual volunteers - people who are making a change in their community.

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