Mohammad shares his experience of the life-changing impact of befriending and his plans to bring generations together
Mohammad Khan, manager at Esther Randall Court, shares his experience of the life-changing impact of befriending and his plans to bring generations together.
How did you get into volunteering?
About ten years ago, after I graduated, I moved back home and started volunteering with Age UK Camden in their dementia befriending. Befriending is when you are matched with an older people who is isolated – so has no family or friends locally – and, after some training, visit them once a week.
What was that experience like?
I was matched with a really lovely lady who was an amazing individual. I was quite young and it had a life-changing impact on me. I really had no clue about dementia, mental health, older people…I didn’t even know that there were so many older people living isolated. I think I benefited most from that experience to be honest, especially at that age. I don’t know if ‘calling’ is too romanticised but it made me want to do more to care for older people.
What happened next?
I spent the last two years of her life as her befriender which was a really moving experience. Then Age UK Camden placed me with an older person here at Esther Randall.
At the time I was thinking about working in IT but I realised I wanted to do something with people. I’d gotten to know the staff here, there was a position for a carer and I went for it. I’ve had such an amazing journey here – joining as a carer then becoming coordinator, deputy and now manager. Volunteering has played a key role in that.
As manager for Esther Randall, what are your plans for volunteering?
We are trying to embed volunteering not just as added value but at the core of our service. We have music sessions, Cocktails in Care Homes and I’m building partnerships to bring young people into the scheme.
There is a magic between younger and older people. It’s like a natural human jigsaw piece coming together. You’ve got people with no experience and people with all the experience in the world. Obviously, they are just going to bind together so well.
And you still volunteer as a befriender?
I started volunteering for someone else when I became a carer who I’m still volunteering for now. She’s a lovely Portuguese lady who lives close to me so I visit her once a week. With a new baby it’s a bit less, but usually once a week!
Why did you feel like it was important to carry on volunteering?
Even though I love this job, when you’re a volunteer its always going to be a different type of relationship. You have a freedom to really get to know a person and learn about their life. I’m a sucker for relationships and older people have amazing love stories!
You can give people all the best care in the world, all the best medical treatment but sometimes what older people really need is that human element. That’s what befriending captures really well. It is just an honest human experience that can go a long way for both parties. I really couldn’t recommend it highly enough.
And you’re a trustee for Age UK Camden as well?
Yes, I’m lucky enough that four years ago Age UK Camden made me a trustee. It’s a completely different type of volunteering. Sitting on the top of an organisation, trying to make sure that they’re following what the charity set out to do. I’ve learnt so much from that.
There are frustrating elements but it has given me a more realistic version of how organisations work. Even when you’re a trustee or a director or senior manager, it’s not always easy to make change
But I still hold on to that ideal that anyone can make a difference. It doesn’t need to be that complicated. At the end of the day, people want that human experience and it can be as simple as knocking on your neighbour’s door.
Our Volunteering & Partnerships team works with One Housing residents and local organisations to create volunteering opportunities that really benefit the community.You can find out more here.