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How Am I Going To Make A Difference?

I think this whole crisis has made us all very aware of the privileges some of us have - and the complete lack of advantages in life many other people have.

I'm 54, I'm a mother of two teenagers. Before lockdown began, I was working as a museum guide at the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers Museums, and about four or five years ago I set up my own business teaching Art History in primary schools. I think art can provide that role of just calming you, giving you a chance to breathe, giving you a chance to remember the world when it was good and beautiful and supposedly straight forward. Giving us other stories, giving us a kind of interaction. I've done a bit of drawing during lockdown, which I haven't really done for a while. I've found that really helpful.

So when all this began, I kept thinking how I'd like to do something useful. It's one of those things you sort of sign up to and you think, “Right, now I'm gonna make a difference”. So I became a Phone Link volunteer. We had training on a zoom call – we talked through a PowerPoint presentation about Health and Safety, about things like not disclosing your number, what's expected of you in terms of commitment, that sort of thing. It wasn't an awful lot of training, but through the process you start to realise it's impossible to predict what's going to be needed of you actually.

I’m in a ‘pod’ with I think probably nine other volunteers. We have a ‘Pod Leader’ who co-ordinates the group. Our Pod Leader has made a big difference - she's taking it seriously but with a sense of humour as well. I feel supported - I feel if there was a bit of a concern or crisis, then there was somebody I could talk to about it. We have pod meetings on zoom every other Thursday afternoon. My husband says ‘you've become a dolphin or something’. I like that. We're in a little shoal together. But actually I think it's a real characteristic of what we're going through at the moment.

I should think it probably took about three or four weeks from that initial email to Oxford Together, to my Pod Leader phoning me up to say, “right, there's a lady called Pam, would you like to give her a ring?” At the start our Pod Leader matches us to the people we ring. And so the person I'm talking to is in their 50s as well, female - maybe that was her logic, I don't know.

It's very strange phoning somebody. I think of myself as a visual person. I have no idea what the person I call looks like, but I have a picture in my head of her. Whether I'll ever meet her or not, I don't know. I think my generation, we're used to talking on the phone. You're used to kind of sensing someone's mood, emotion, whatever. You have to pick up on nuances of language, and of memory. But with somebody you've never met before, that's harder. It's also harder when you don't know why they need a phone call. You're not really told whether they're self -referred, whether the doctor’s referred them, or they've been referred by a friend. And so what do they actually need from me? Why am I doing this? What is the purpose of the call? Am I intruding? Do they not want to be called at all? Pam, she's never said to me, “So, who are you? Why do you keep phoning me?”.

She's really had no curiosity about me at all. I obviously have privileged information about her, but she didn't know anything about me. I mean, I think I went through a phase of definitely thinking, “Oh God, have I really got to do this again? What on earth are we going to talk about?”. Some of the people in the Pod have said, for instance, the person they're talking to is particularly into Cary Grant films. So they've been doing their homework and watching Cary Grant, or that they've been swapping recipes, or I know one person and the person she calls has taught her how to meditate on the phone. But Pam’s not interested in Art. She doesn't watch TV. She's just very into the Bay City Rollers.

She tries hard. I mean you never get the impression from her that she's thinking, 'Can you just shut up, please.', but you can just tell sometimes her mood is quite low. On the whole we've had quite light- hearted conversations. She's got this spirit, she really makes me laugh. But there was one day I phoned her- I think it was a Saturday - and luckily, I had time on my hands. I don't know what started it off, but she talked on the phone for 56 minutes about her life. And it was the most terrible thing. I cried and cried afterwards because she's had one of those lives that you hear about when you read about Misery Memoirs, but I've never encountered somebody who's had such hardship to put up with. I felt incredibly privileged that she wanted to tell me, but also so saddened that somebody was now living on her own in a mobile home, missing her husband. I think her late husband's birthday was a few days in the future. So I think she wanted to commemorate him in some way. And so I think I was just - I want to say lucky - but maybe that's not the right word. I happened to be there at that time when this was in her mind. And we haven't really gone back there again.

To say it's changed me is sort of overdramatic, really, but it has really made me think it's always good to be taken out of your comfort zone and good to realise that the world is not just the world you experience. The world is many different things to many different people. It's a huge privilege actually - to be given somebody whose life experience is completely different from your own, and somebody who I wouldn't normally have met at all, somebody who I wouldn't come across.

I think we all want to make a difference. And possibly, as we get older, as the children become more independent, you do start thinking, how am I going to make a difference? What can I do? And I think this whole crisis has made us all very aware of the privileges some of us have - and the complete lack of advantages in life many other people have. So, if talking on the phone with somebody will be useful, then maybe that's something I would like to explore further.

And it's been important to me to feel that I'm not on the front line. I'm not kind of putting on scrubs every day and going into a hospital or anything like that, but I've done some little droplets of contribution - I haven't just been worrying about whether I can get avocados or not tomorrow. What I wanted to do is to say to my teenagers, this is a national problem, not just a family problem, and I wanted to demonstrate to them that I was trying to kind of reach out a bit.

So, you know, it hasn't impinged on life really, it's been very easy to fit into life. It's just been a very positive thing all together.

Edited by Renata Allen


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