Every week is unique with my buddy

Angela had lots of doubts about volunteering as a Sense Virtual Buddy. She explains how she overcame the doubts, got to know her buddy, and found buddying to be so rewarding.

I had the privilege of meeting some Sense volunteer buddies through my work. As a community fundraising manager, I work with buddies and share their stories to help raise the money needed to run the Sense Virtual Buddying service.

Becoming a virtual buddy myself would allow me to share my own personal experience with potential donors. But did I have the right qualities to buddy and befriend?

‘I’m not going to be good enough. I haven’t got the level of patience required. I won’t know how to communicate with somebody who is deafblind or has a complex disability.’ The nagging doubts came thick and fast.

But the Sense team’s buddy training sessions helped me overcome my hesitation. I talked through my goals with the team, exploring how I could support and befriend a potential buddy.

Meeting Nigel

In August 2020 I was paired with Nigel, who is deafblind. Someone from the buddying team joined us on the first of our weekly calls to check whether Nigel and I seemed like a good match. We all agreed we were.

One of the things Nigel and I bonded over is our mutual love of animals. We both have Spaniels – my dog is called Mabel and Nigel’s is Wallace – and our canine companions are a constant source of conversation. Nigel and I share tips on keeping our pets healthy and happy. In fact, Mabel’s favourite chew toy, Yaker, is one recommended by Nigel.

A man with a stripey blue top wearing a mask

Sharing interests and insight

Nigel loves pop music and we enjoy doing music quizzes together. He’s also passionate about football and is an ardent fan of Liverpool FC, so I’ve learned a lot about the beautiful game from him. I’ve picked up lots of gardening hints from him too. Nigel is quite the gardening expert. He has his own allotment and has planted a few onions recently, much to Wallace’s delight. I hear he loves digging up the bulbs!

Nigel’s horticultural expertise is so impressive that I’m hoping he’ll become our Sense gardening guru. One of our centres has an allotment and Nigel’s know-how could be useful to them as they cultivate their patch.

Every single week I come away from our virtual buddying sessions realising how difficult situations can be for Nigel. For example, Wallace injured his paw recently. Nigel wanted to get him checked out by the vet without delay, but a local taxi service he booked refused to take the dog. Nigel persevered and got Wallace the treatment he needed in good time, which shows just how much Nigel has grown in confidence since we started our sessions.

Ongoing support

Of course, it helps us both to have the ongoing support of the Sense buddying team. They email with activity suggestions every week. They also ask for regular feedback from each of us individually and resolve any issues we raise quickly.

For example, our first call took place on FaceTime, with Nigel on his iPhone. There were a number of technical issues when using the iPad or iPhone so, Nigel was supported to learn how to use a link in an email that enabled him to connect to Zoom on his PC.

With the bigger screen and some clever lighting, Nigel can see me far more clearly than he could on his phone, which has made more activities accessible to us.

Activities outside the call

The benefits of our sessions go beyond our Monday chat. For example, we often set up activities for Nigel to carry out at his leisure later in the week. I might demonstrate painting by numbers, for instance. After watching me onscreen, Nigel will then do some painting on his own over the next few days.

At the moment, I’m helping Nigel apply for a place on a Sense Holiday and, with support, Nigel has now submitted his application. If that goes ahead, I hope to drive him from his home to the holiday destination. It will be amazing to meet him in person, though I’ll leave Mabel at home. She’ll get way too excited meeting Wallace!

What does it take to be a buddy?

I’ve realised you don’t have to be super-special be to a buddy. You just have to have some sense of warmth, responsibility and interest. If you’re thinking of becoming a virtual buddy yourself, you’ll be fully supported by the Sense team.

Those weekly chats genuinely make such a difference to people. Being a buddy is something that’s so rewarding and gives so much back.

Volunteer as a Sense Virtual Buddy

Fancy following in Angela’s footsteps? Signing up as a Sense Virtual Buddy is quick and easy, and we’ll give you all the support you need.