Student Volunteer

My Experience of Befriending

Name: Loic Estier

Course: 3rd Year Mechanical Engineering with Integrated Design at the University of Bath

“My flatmate went abroad to visit his family and could not make it back due to Coronavirus, leaving me alone in the flat. I’m a relatively relaxed person, and I can entertain myself and keep busy quite easily; nonetheless, the morning news left me anxious and the evenings were terribly lonely, I couldn’t sleep with all the rumours about Coronavirus. When you’re alone you have no one to “reality check” with, and, although it helps, you can’t possibly be on the phone 24/7.

I went back home the day before France’s lockdown came into effect to quarantine with my brother and sister. We hadn’t lived together in years, but I can assure you that no one was injured over the course of lockdown 😉 Things were actually quite peaceful between us; we were all busier than ever thanks to uni (yes THANKS to uni – can’t believe I just said that!) and as hugely cliché as it might sound I probably baked about a hundred croissants in 2 months. Trust me, it’s a healthy addiction – croissants and coffee are a match made in quarantine! No seriously it’s a good meditation, you should try it.

Being confined with my siblings made me realise how lucky I was to have someone to talk to and laugh with. Why should anyone have to experience what I did back in Bath? I could not bear the thought of knowing that some people, and certainly the elderly, would have no choice but to brave lockdown alone. What’s more is that, while essential workers were working overtime to keep society up and standing, I felt useless abroad. Luckily, I stumbled upon 3SG who happened to be organising a remote calling system. It’s impressive how fast 3SG’s befriending scheme was put into place — they’re seriously on top of their game. Anyway, I signed up right away!

At first, I felt a little uneasy calling a stranger and I kept thinking: “do they actually want me to call them, or am I just taking their time? Do they even know I’m a volunteer? That there’s a human soul behind the voice calls, that I’m not just following some script and that I’m completely winging this thing because I’ve never done anything like it before?”. I guess I just had no idea what to expect.

We hit it off straight away. My befriendee is 85 years old, at high risk, and, despite the circumstances, has plenty of good humour to share! We used to joke about who was really befriending who. We called every single day for at least 2 months, and to this day the conversations don’t slow down. If anything, they get more and more intriguing! In reality, it took about a week or so to really break through — at first we were discussing her past, but then we started chatting about current events, sharing personal opinions and, further down the line, loneliness and common life struggles.

My befriendee has taught me a great deal about the world pre-90s and, looking back on it, I know I have made an impression on her life, too, which is actually incredibly fulfilling. A more sombre realisation is that there are many other elderly people who have no one to talk to, not even family, and for whom life will remain  a restless battleground against loneliness and depression.

On a more positive note: Now that the scheme is over, we still call about once or twice a week by habit, which is more than I call my own grandparents! It’s an interesting friendship to say the least.”

3SG provides support for local charities across Bath and North East Somerset. Since the start of lockdown, they have been working on numerous initiatives to try and reach vulnerable people and provide support with food, medicine, housing, mental health and money matters.