Volunteering, loneliness, UK

Gareth Spencer volunteers with the Red Cross in Wales – ©TimMossford/UNP

Whether he’s repairing shoes or volunteering, Gareth Spencer is certainly finding different ways to help people put their best foot forward. 

The part-time cobbler from Pontypridd, Wales, is a volunteer for the British Red Cross. Over the past year, he’s helped many people overcome issues like loneliness. You could too.

“If you’ve got the spare time, what better way is there of using it?” said Gareth.

People take up volunteering for all sorts of reasons. They might find they have a bit of spare time because they’ve retired or the kids have left home.

Or they might be thinking about a change in career and want to learn new skills.

Gareth was the latter. While he would never describe working for his family’s shoe repair company as a load of old cobblers, he was interested in moving into the adult care sector.

“I wanted to try a change in career,” Gareth said. “I wanted to do something to help people, something worthwhile.”

Volunteering with the Red Cross gave him the opportunity to do just that.

He became a volunteer for one of our services in Wales, providing practical and emotional support to vulnerable older people, who may have been struggling to live alone following a personal crisis.

Many also experienced loneliness and social isolation.

Improving lives and empowering people

To help Gareth feel confident in his new role, he was put on a three-day training course that included key care-giving skills such as first aid, safeguarding and infection control.

He also shadowed a team leader for around four weeks to learn more first hand.

“That gave me a bit of know-how so I wasn’t going into things without any prior knowledge,” said Gareth.

“When I was ready, I was allocated service users and had my own cases to manage.”

Once training was complete, Gareth was ready to get out there. He started supporting people for periods of up to eight weeks, offering tailored help depending on their goals.

“I get the satisfaction of feeling I am making a difference to people’s lives,” he said.

“You’re improving lives and empowering people to give them the confidence to do things for themselves.

“One recent case saw me work with a gentleman who is in a wheelchair and has Parkinson’s disease.

“He hadn’t been out for a good period of time, but I started by taking him out a few times and then introduced him to a social activities club at a community centre.

“It was great to see him become confident enough to go out and find something he enjoyed.”

Now that Gareth has this experience under his belt, he’s hoping it will enable him to realise his ambition of working full time in the adult care sector.

Volunteering, loneliness, UK

The Red Cross is recruiting volunteers for new services to tackle loneliness – ©TimMossford/UNP

Can you help?

Over nine million people in the UK (almost one fifth of the population) report they are always or often lonely.

The Red Cross is launching new services, funded by Co-op, to reach more than 12,000 adults experiencing loneliness and social isolation over the next two years.

And if, like Gareth, you’ve got a little time to spare, we are looking for volunteers to help people in their local area who are lonely or socially isolated.

Just a few hours could help someone feel so much better.

When asked about volunteering, Gareth said: “Go for it. It’s so worthwhile. You’re making a difference to people’s lives.

“It’s all about reconnecting people with communities but volunteering gets you out into the community as well.”