Golfing to feel good: Volunteering for Side by Side

From the August/September 2018 issue of Dementia together magazine, a Dementia Friends Champion in East Yorkshire is finding out just how much you can benefit from being a Side by Side volunteer.

Side by Side volunteer Annette with John, the man she supports.

Annette and John have built up a strong bond

Annette Jackson, a retired teacher, didn’t appreciate what she had to gain when she first volunteered for Side by Side in Hull and East Riding. However, her regular games of golf with John Jones over the past year and a half have been a revelation. 

‘When I started volunteering, I wanted to do something for others,’ says Annette, aged 56. ‘But golfing with John makes me feel good. 

‘When I arrive to pick John up and say do you know me, he sometimes jokes – he has a fantastic sense of humour – “Of course I do, George!” But the most heart-warming was when he said, “Here she comes, my guardian angel.”’ 

Side by SIde

Our Side by Side service links people living with dementia to volunteers, so they can keep doing the things they love.

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Not looked back 

Through Side by Side, volunteers support people with dementia to carry on doing the things they enjoy. This could be anything from Scrabble to snowboarding, but it was golf that brought Annette and John together. 

‘My daughter-in-law, Lottie, was about to sign up to Side by Side when they asked her if she played golf,’ recalls Annette. ‘She said she didn’t, but knew someone who did. 

‘Lottie had to return home for photo ID, and they jokingly said, “When you come back, will you bring your mother-in-law?” Well she did, and I’ve not looked back!’ 

Joy of playing 

John, now 80, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2015. Even with the support of his wife Eileen and their family, he was becoming increasingly withdrawn. He even stopped playing golf, the ‘second love of his life’ after Eileen. 

Despite this, he had Annette practising her golf swing in the living room the first time they met. 

‘On our way home, John will repeatedly thank me and ask if we can do it again and how we go about arranging it,’ says Annette.

‘He enjoys the golf very much,’ says Annette, ‘but also the pint in the clubhouse, where he chats to the staff. They show a real interest in him, especially when he tells his stories about Hull docks, where he used to fillet fish when he was a young man. 

‘On our way home, John will repeatedly thank me and ask if we can do it again and how we go about arranging it. He might not be able to remember what his score was or how he played, but he certainly remembers the joy of playing and the fun we have.’ 

Good humour 

As a Dementia Friends Champion, Annette delivers information sessions everywhere from secondary schools to the Women’s Institute. She also now runs them with new Side by Side volunteers. Yet not much can beat her time spent with John. 

‘He always makes me laugh with his good humour,’ she says. ‘We chat about things he has done in the past, his army days and Hull dock days, his family and particularly his wife Eileen. I always look forward to golfing with him.’

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