Some things never change in this ever-changing world

You could be forgiven for thinking that debates and discussions surrounding the current political climate and other happenings around the world are the preserve of the young, but residents in St Catherine’s have no shortage of opinions or views – and certainly no shortage of energy - when it comes to keeping up with the news.

What they are often lacking, however, is someone to help them keep abreast of everything, someone to explain the often inexplicable happenings in the world today. Could that someone be you?

It’s quite common for residents to be in their 90’s or 100’s these days and, although the enthusiasm often remains as sharp as ever, the key senses of hearing and sight are sometimes severely dimmed.

To have someone to patiently explain the headlines in a newspaper and discuss the changing world makes a huge difference to many of the residents I chat with - and it’s fascinating to do a bit of time travelling yourself as life in the early half of the 1900’s is brought back to life in the words of someone who was there.

Today we have everything available to us at the click of a button – food or drink delivered straight to our door on a whim; next day deliveries on everything from a book to a washing machine and even things you can order now and receive in a few hours! What must it have been like in a world without instant access to your heart’s desire?

Well, a lot happier, according to many of the residents I’ve spoken to. Times were harder, but they took pleasure in working hard to save for something special and the general consensus is that it made them appreciate things more; families provided company and entertainment for each other and were there when you needed them, forming strong bonds and providing dependability.

There are some great things to share about living in the here and now, though – Skype keeps residents connected with families no matter where they are, mobile phones similarly; 24-hour access to a huge range of TV channels, often with subtitles for those who have difficulty hearing. But you can’t beat having someone for company to share your news and thoughts with and I hope that doesn't change, no matter which era we live in.

If you want to join me in giving some time to volunteer for St Cuthberts Care, get in touch with the charity's volunteer co-ordinator, Nicola Milne by ringing 0191 2280111 or email her at

The art of being serenely busy

Life can be a bit of a rat race, can't it. You always seem to be watching the clock and running late for something; pulled between the demands of work and home. So why volunteer on top of all that?! Well, let me give you my perspective.

As I step from the hustle and bustle of a working day into my role as a volunteer, all the urgency and activity of the last eight-or-so hours just seem to melt away. Leaving my day job and entering the world of St Catherine's is like stepping into a pool of tranquillity.

It's not just the peace and quiet that greets me as I walk from one world to the next, it's the contented, relaxed aura that most of the people living there seem to enjoy, too; like they've found some secret meaning to life that's escaped the rest of us.

After an hour or so spent in the company of people who have time to reflect on the years they've spent here on earth, I'm a little closer to finding peace within myself.

Don't get me wrong, it's not some sleepy hollow where people spend all their days sitting around navel gazing. Not. At. All!

In the last week alone, residents have been pampered and preened in the hairdressing salon and enjoyed baking and afternoon tea, there's been an arts and crafts session, a prayer group …

Now, this is where you come in.

You see, keeping our residents entertained and active is a pretty big job and many of the sessions I've described rely on volunteers to help out. Think how much more they could enjoy if you stepped into that pool of tranquillity with me and unwound from the stresses of the day by giving a little volunteering time.

Ok, I can see you thinking that my argument about tranquillity is unravelling here, but volunteering is a different kind of busy; I can only describe it as being serenely busy. The more you give, the more you get out of it. If you give it a try you'll know what I mean.

Of course, there's much more on offer in the world of volunteering than helping out in our nursing homes, if that doesn't appeal.

So, if you fancy dipping your toe in the water, check out our volunteering page and have a look around. We've even made that easy peasy!

Is there anybody out there?

No, I'm not trying to reach the outer limits or make contact with E.T. - I'm simply wondering whether anybody out there wants to join me as a volunteer.

I've been telling my stories online now for several months in the hope that I can inspire people to volunteer, yet here I am, still among a select few circulating in the St Catherine's Nursing Home universe.

On my last visit, I really needed to travel at warp speed to do everything I wanted to do … or perhaps develop a clone who could help out.

It was a gorgeous evening, so it would have been lovely to take some of the residents who enjoy a bit of basking to sit in the sheltered garden; there were ladies who I know would love a little manicure and pamper, others who like a quiz or crossword and yet more who appreciate a good old chin wag …

I'm just a simple soul who doesn't bring any special talents to my volunteering, so you don't have to be a proficient entertainer or spend oodles of time preparing for your visits. If you can just bring yourself and your desire to make a positive difference to someone's life, that's really all it takes.

Of course, if you DO have a special talent you'd like to share – singing, poetry, arts and crafts, whatever – that wouldn't come amiss either. Once you get to know the residents and find out what they like, you may discover you have an interest they'd really enjoy sharing.

But remember, volunteering isn't ALL about giving, you really do get so much back in return (see numerous examples below).

As we head towards the end of Volunteer Week, let's not park our response until we're reminded to ponder the request again next year.

This could be the best tonic imaginable

I'm back! Sorry for the long absence, but I managed to catch some horrible virus a few weeks ago and that meant I couldn't visit St Catherine's for a while.

I really missed everyone and couldn't wait to get back, but if I was still ailing a little on my return I felt in fine fettle when I left.

Popping in to see all the people I visit regularly was the best tonic imaginable. I can't explain how wonderful it feels to see someone's face really light up when you walk into their room. Everyone wants to feel wanted and boy! do I feel wanted in St Catherine's.

My first stop was to catch up on crossword time with John who greeted me with the most enthusiastic, 'oh, you're back! Wonderful' It's lovely to have such a warm welcome, but even better was that John sat straighter in his chair, his face lit up and he looked ready for anything.

My next visit found Rod without his usual book in hand – a sure sign that all was not well. 'Oh, I'm just feeling my age', he said. It turned out that he was eking out the last book in his collection, but I had the solution right there. Slowly, as we ran through the new titles I'd brought along for him to choose from, I could see the real Rod start to emerge. 'You know, I feel so much better now,' he said as I was getting ready to leave. Honestly, words can't describe how incredible it was to see him back to his old self so quickly.

Everyone I visited had such lovely things to say or just made me feel so special; I felt 10 feet tall by the time I left!

I may be volunteering my time to bring a little bit of joy and comfort into the lives of St Catherine's residents, but I didn't realise quite how much it was benefiting me, too.

Age is just a number when it comes to sharing girl talk

If there are any male readers here, you might want to take a break and come back next time. You see, I had a particularly girlie time volunteering yesterday – giggling, swapping news and Hollywood gossip, discussing hair styles, shoes and nail varnish. Who would have thought I was in a nursing home chatting to ladies who ranged in age from their 80's to over 100!

Just because you grow older, you don't suddenly stop wanting to look nice and feel your best, now do you?

I remember as a younger woman thinking fun and pretty things would be virtually over by the time I was 40 and that fashion and looking good just wouldn't matter. Thankfully, I realised that wasn't the case long ago and now I've shared these girlie times with my nursing home pals I know it's all going to matter as long as I'm around.

I think it's only human nature to look ahead and wonder what you'll be like in your 40's, 60's 80's … and, yet again, my wise friends in St Catherine's have taught me fact from fiction. I find it comforting to know I'm still going to enjoy girlie times long after I could realistically be classed as a girl and, whenever the time comes, it would make my day to have just the same giggly fun times with someone who understood this.

I've said it before (and I'm shamelessly going to say it again), but being a volunteer isn't rocket science. I'm sure there are tons of you out there who could share everyday simple things that would make the world of difference to our nursing home residents.

So, c'mon girls, share your love of Mokachic for your nails, L'Oreal for your hair and your favourite James Bond actor. It could be the start of forming a lovely new friendship.

Have you got a case of the winter blues?

I've been hearing a lot about Blue Monday this week – the day that many of us feel at our lowest after all the excitement and fun of the festivities – and it struck me that volunteering is a great way to chase away those winter blues.

One of the main villains of Blue Monday seems to be a feeling of isolation and loneliness … well, here's a thought, there's a whole host of people who'd love some company and conversation in our nursing homes.

With 45 rooms in St Catherine's home in Newcastle and 56 at Holy Cross in Sunderland, you can pretty much guarantee someone would be delighted if you popped in to visit with them.

My most recent volunteering visit was an absolute tonic and I can still feel myself smiling inside. You see, I've witnessed a friendship growing between two neighbouring ladies in St Catherine's and last night it was in full bloom!

Without giving names and personal details, let me just say that one lady has been feeling quite low and lonely and another lady never seemed to want to leave her room.

I've noticed them sharing a little more time together and growing closer over the last few months, but each one always seemed to return to their own rooms alone. But last night, one lady was visiting the other in their room and enjoying the quiet, comfortable companionship that comes from simply sitting together and enjoying each other's company while watching a favourite tv programme.

I can't tell you how happy that made me! I just had to pop in to say hello and soak up some of that feel good factor.

So, if you've been suffering from Blue Monday, honestly, think about volunteering. It makes you glow!

My tribute to Sheila Duffy

Dealing with the sadness of losing someone special is never easy, so when one of the lovely ladies I visited many times in St Catherine's passed away recently I decided it would help to reflect on some of our wonderful times together.

Sheila was one of the cleverest people I've ever met and, despite her finding it difficult to speak sometimes, we found a way to communicate - and Sheila always found a way to correct my dreadful Scottish pronunciation!

You see, Sheila was born and raised in Scotland and was passionate about all things Scottish.

Sheila loved books and was an accomplished scholar with several degrees to her name, so, soon after getting to know her, we decided to spend our time together reading.

One of my roles at work is managing our charity's 5p Bus clothes distribution service, which happily, also receives many other useful items, including books. When I spotted a beautiful, illustrated guide book of the Scottish lakes among the donations some time ago, I borrowed that to share with Sheila. And she LOVED it!

Each week we'd take a tour through the pages of that book, me trying my hardest to honour Sheila by pronouncing the place names correctly, Sheila gently correcting me from time to time. This pattern continued from page one right to the end of the book, but it did make us smile!

While leafing through those incredible photos in the book and reading out each enthralling place description, I knew Sheila was right there; she was taking that journey with the author and me, remembering places she'd been to, marvelling at places she hadn't.

I like to think I brought a little Scottish sunshine into the evenings I spent reading with Sheila; she certainly brightened mine.

I wish it could be Christmas every day, don't you?

Everywhere you go at the moment, you can really tell that Christmas is just around the corner – and I love it! But even nicer for me was sharing that festive spirit with all the lovely residents at St Catherine's at their Christmas fayre.

Staff, relatives, friends, residents and volunteers had all come together to make sure a good time was had by all and it was brilliant to see the residents, in particular, with that happy, festive glow. Isn't it great what a bit of togetherness can achieve?

The atmosphere in the home was buzzing with excitement and energy; everywhere you looked people were smiling or laughing or full of expectation as they opened their tombola tickets and each and every person was so proud and chuffed to win even the smallest of things.

Christmas fosters such good will towards others, so, in that respect, I really do wish it could be Christmas every day!

Of course, Christmas is swiftly followed by New Year with all those resolutions we plan to stick to with such fervour. Hmph! I'm sure I'm not the only one to fail most years. Still, it's the thought that counts, eh …

But, wait! I've got an idea! Why not combine the true spirit of Christmas (the giving and loving bit) with those New Year resolutions and promise yourself you'll become a volunteer? That way, it really could feel like Christmas every day.

We've made it so easy to become a volunteer - and you'll know from my other blogs that there's a massive feel-good factor in it for you, too. Who knows, it may even be the first New Year resolution you actually stick to!

Go on, what are you waiting for? Visit our volunteer page now and see what a difference you could make.

The 'give and take' benefits of being a young volunteer

We're a group of Year 12 students from Sacred Heart School who regularly volunteer at St Catherine's Nursing Home and we've been invited to write this week's blog.

For anyone like us who wants to go into one of the many professions involving care – whether you want to be a dentist, teacher, nurse, doctor or something else entirely – volunteering can give you invaluable experience.

But more than that, it gives you the chance to learn about life and history from people who have lived it.

During our time at St Catherine's, we've been able to talk to many of the friendly residents and have been inspired by their amazing stories of war and everyday life. It shocked us to see how our lives are so different to theirs because of society's views at the time on women, jobs and opportunities available.

We've loved taking part in lots of activities with the residents as well, led by an amazingly talented volunteer, Adele! As well as giving hand massages and applying nail polish, we've helped make poppy wreaths for Remembrance Day, made coasters and decorated cakes. Working together like this has helped us to understand that being able to communicate with all kinds of people is essential when you're looking for a career in care.

We are thoroughly enjoying our experience at St Catherine's and would definitely recommend it to anyone as it's personally rewarding, and beneficial not just to us, but to those we share our time with during our visits.

Sruthi, Iram, Dona, Bridie and Sadia

Can volunteering make you a better person?

I'm going to say 'yes' to this question and if you fancy sticking around, I'll try to explain how I came to this conclusion.

My last volunteer session fell just before Remembrance Sunday so, as I no longer have anyone to answer the age-old question, "what did you do in the war, daddy", I thought some of the residents of St Catherine's might like to reminisce with me.

I sought out a lovely gentleman who had already given me a brief insight into his wartime experiences and we sat and chatted for well over an hour! Even in this time, we barely scratched the surface of how he bravely helped to defend our country.

I could have sat there all night listening to him as he painted such vivid pictures with his stories and led me through the full gamut of emotions as the tales unfolded. At times I was on the edge of my seat; I could have been watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster – but this was REAL!

As I came away at the end of our time together, I couldn't help but feel grateful for the opportunity I had to share in those stories. Normally, we spend our time together puzzling over crossword clues – who would have thought this same, gentle person had achieved the things he had! I'm now proud as punch that he shared those incredible experiences with me.

Based on this one session of volunteering alone, my life feels richer; fuller, and my 'problems' snap back into perspective. How can you fret about the car breaking down, or the washing on the line being caught in a downpour when you've heard first-hand about someone sheltering from wartime shelling?!

But, back to the question I asked at the beginning.

Let me outline some of the reasons I think it can:

  • You can't help but be humbled by hearing how someone has given so much for the benefit of others
  • Volunteering teaches you that by thinking of others you can gain so much yourself
  • It makes you appreciate the work done by others who came before you to build a future for you to inherit
  • If you've only seen elderly people as just that: elderly, learning about someone's dynamic, younger days can radically change that view for the better
  • You'll gain a greater knowledge of a world before your time

I'm sure there are more virtues to be counted, but I can't list them all here – and I know I have lots more to discover!

Hopefully, by continuing to share my time with the remarkable people in St Catherine's, they'll help me on the never-ending journey to becoming a better person.

What do you get for a marvellous lady of 104?

Well, that was the quandary that sparked this latest blog and led to one of the best birthday celebrations I've had.

One of the many lovely things about volunteering at St Catherine's is the l-o-n-g trips you can take down memory lane when a resident marks their birthday. At 104 years young, the trip I took with the delightful Mrs Mc was jaw-dropping.

As I say, it all started when I was wracking my brain to think of ways to mark her birthday. I mean, what can you get for a lady of 104 who has seen it all?

Inspired by news earlier in the week that we'd actually reached the date in the future as portrayed in the movie 'Back to the Future', I thought we could do a bit of time travelling ourselves.

So, I took along a list of significant happenings that have shaped Britain and the world since Mrs Mc was born and we had a great time!

There were so many things I wanted to ask her about, and many things that even surprised her – despite her years of wisdom!

I started by telling her that she'd seen Prime Ministers appointed to office 24 times and had been ruled by four monarchs.

Even more amazingly, though, she has lived through an age when women had no rights to vote; before the birth of the National Health Service; before the discovery of penicillin and before the dawn of television. I know! No EastEnders!

Sadly, her life also encompasses two World Wars, which brought personal as well as national tragedy.

But what a journey she's had.

From the simple times of the past when the humble orange was a luxury right through to the marvels of the digital era where, if she wished, she could enjoy a Skype session with her daughter in New Zealand from the comfort of her armchair. Wow!

In our fast-paced, youth-centred world, we sometimes overlook the value of our older citizens and the rich experiences we can share together. As a volunteer, I feel privileged to have the chance to do this every single week.

Thank you and happy birthday, Mrs Mc!

Have you ever thought about volunteering but don't think you have much to offer?

Well, I'm here to tell you that even the smallest of things can make a huge difference - even if you only have a little time to give. I work full time, so can only give about one-and-a-half hours of volunteering time each week, but in that time, the three or four people I speak to or spend time with always seem to look a little brighter, a little more alert.

I'd better start by saying I work for St Cuthberts Care, but let's address the potential for a vested interest there before I share my story. My job is demanding, but it doesn't demand that I give my own time to the charity! I volunteer because I want to and because I love it.

So, now we've cleared that up, let me tell you about some of the things I get out of volunteering and how easy it is to make a difference to someone's life.

I volunteer in St Catherine's Nursing Home and while I'm visiting, the residents are my boss! By that, of course, I mean they tell me what they'd like to spend time doing and I do my best to make it happen. Honestly, I've learned more about book authors, history and general knowledge than at any other time in my life.

And I have great fun doing it! I've made friends with so many wonderful men and women whose life stories would guarantee a best-seller if only I had time to put them all together in a book.

It's massively rewarding, too. I know it's a cliché , but it's true. Just last night, for example, one of the gentlemen I visit was feeling a little down when I went to see him. He's 102 and losing his eyesight, so naturally he's missing all the favourite things he used to be able to do.

When I came in to his room and shouted my usual, 'hello, it's only me', I swear he looked ten years younger knowing I was there to help him complete a crossword. It's one of those simple little things I mentioned earlier, but boy! did it make his day. And mine.

By the time I left, he was telling me jokes and planning our next crossword session. You just can't put a price on that now, can you?