Murray Allam, who will be 90 next year, is a volunteer for Engage Befriending. He visits his befriendee, who lives in a care home, for two hours each week. ‘We do whatever he wants’, says Murray, ‘just sit and chat, or go for a walk around the grounds’. Murray’s befriendee has no family nearby, so Murray is the only person he sees apart from his carers. Their weekly meetings are a chance to talk about life’s ups and down. ‘I think it helps him along and give him something to enjoy’, explains Murray.
The indefatigable Murray has also volunteered for Sue Ryder’s Duchess of Kent Hospice, where he befriended someone who was in the last year of their life and housebound. In this role he helped to give family and carers a break.
Murray came to Engage Befriending with a huge variety of voluntary experience: he has been volunteering in Reading ever since his retirement almost 25 years ago. Though modest about his voluntary service, it’s clear that Murray has been extraordinarily active, taking on a number of challenging roles, meeting lots of different characters, and accumulating many fascinating stories along the way.
He has volunteered in most departments of the Royal Berkshire Hospital, showing people around or looking after patients in waiting rooms and queues. It was important to him to give something back to the hospital, because of the way they cared for his wife before she died, and because his daughter worked as a staff nurse in a children’s hospital in London.
Another demanding but meaningful voluntary role was witness support at court: ‘You’d get people coming in who were scared to death of the juries and the whole set up. Most witnesses wish they hadn’t said anything. It’s very distressing for them and you try to help them get on with it’. Murray also led rambles for Reading Association for the Blind, which he loved doing (although he had a reputation for occasionally getting groups lost!). Alongside his current work for Engage Befriending, he continues to record local news and articles for Talking News.
It’s not necessary to have an illustrious volunteering history like Murray’s in order to become a befriender though. Murray sees volunteering as a wonderful opportunity for everyone and thinks that befriending is a very rewarding and enjoyable way to spend time. It’s all about getting on with people, relating to them, and being tolerant and non-judgmental: ‘whatever people come out with, you listen to it and accept the fact that that’s how they want to communicate … the topic of conversation doesn’t matter, it’s just being there’.
Over the years, Murray has gotten used to the fact that his fellow volunteers are mostly women, but notes that ‘men can do it just as well!’. Volunteering is a great thing to do for your own wellbeing when you retire, suggests Murray: ‘you’ve been working for 50 years, that’s a long time, so don’t just stop … you have to do something if you’re fit and able’. Equally, he says, ‘you do get to an age where, if you’re not careful, you will overdo it’, so he now appreciates the more relaxed pace of befriending.
Murray has some enthusiastic advice for anyone thinking about volunteering: ‘I would say go for it, definitely! I would get on the rooftops and shout it if you want. Go for it, don’t think about it, just do it, and you will find the niche for you – there are so many people to help’.