Being yourself: Side by Side volunteering

From the October/November 2018 issue of Dementia together magazine, we meet a Side by Side volunteer in Wales who has found that helping someone else still feel part of the world has given her a new place in it too.

Lucy Swannell, a Side by Side volunteer

Lucy Swannell

When she first volunteered for Side by Side, Lucy Swannell was apprehensive about meeting Bill, the person with dementia she’d been paired with. However, that didn’t last long.

‘When all you know about somebody is some details on a form, it’s hard to know if you’ll get on,’ says Lucy.

‘I needn’t have worried, as Bill put me at ease quickly. I soon realised I could be myself – as daft as two brushes – and Bill would tolerate my bad jokes with a withering, “I’m worried about you,” and occasionally even laugh.’

View of the sea

Side by Side links people with dementia to volunteers who help them carry on doing the things they love. For Bill, in Aberystwyth, a connection to the sea made it the obvious place for him and Lucy to spend time.

‘He enjoys going to somewhere on the coast where, depending on the wind chill factor, we'll either sit outside or stay in the car,’ says Lucy. ‘I bring a flask of coffee and some sugar, and that – along with a view of the sea – is all we need.

‘There are not many people I can imagine talking to for over an hour,’ says Lucy.

‘The sea brings back memories of trips to faraway places, though we talk about so much else too. Once we've put the world to rights, we might move on to books, films, music and family.

‘There are not many people I can imagine talking to for over an hour, in fact I don’t think I talk to anyone like I talk to Bill. You’d think after more than three years we might run out of things to talk about, but the phrase “we can talk about that next week” comes up a lot.

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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‘Instead of crawling out of town with the rest of the cars after work on a Thursday and thinking about what to have for tea, I get to go to the beach with Bill, drink rapidly cooling coffee and talk about everything and anything under the sun – the stars if it’s winter.

‘The pace of life nowadays often feels too fast, but I never think I should be doing anything else when I am with Bill.’

So much more

Lucy is glad of the support she’s had as a volunteer, and has no qualms about encouraging other people to get involved with Side by Side.

‘Bill still has a lot to offer the world and I want to help him always feel part of it,’ says Lucy.

‘You'll get to know someone you wouldn't have met otherwise, and somebody who is so much more than their diagnosis of dementia.

‘It makes me happy to see Bill in full flow holding forth on a subject that he is passionate about, because then I know Bill is winning. Bill still has a lot to offer the world and I want to help him always feel part of it.’

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