When 27-year-old Hannah started volunteering for 62-year-old Agatha, who has limited vision, she forged a surprising friendship.
I used to work for Guide Dogs in Birmingham and was part of the team that launched the My Guide scheme back in 2014. It’s a service that matches people with sight loss to volunteers that help them get out and about, and do things like run errands.
I loved that Guide Dogs were reaching out to everyone who had sight loss, and not just those who wanted a dog; I think that’s so important.
I worked in the role for around 18 months before moving to London to work for another charity, where I was offered the chance to work a nine day fortnight. I really wanted to do something meaningful with my extra day, and I knew how flexible the My Guide scheme was – I could still have a lie in in the morning, or meet my friends in the evening – so I decided to go for it.
Agatha and I were matched by the service in May 2017, and we hit it off straight away. I knew I’d be more than happy to spend two hours with her every Monday, helping her get out and about. I could already tell it was going to be much more than just helping her get to the post office – it was going to be a really fun experience. We were a match made in heaven.
We have loads in common – we both love shopping and we’re massive bargain hunters, always looking for designer labels in charity shops in Wandsworth (of which there are many). We also love food and drink, and we quite often go somewhere for a glass of prosecco. Agatha is the worst influence on me!
We’re also both big football fans and support Arsenal – what are the chances of that? We’re borrowing a friend’s season ticket to go to a match soon. Agatha has never been to the stadium before and she was so chuffed when she found out that she started screaming. Arsenal are going to sort us out with audio descriptions of the commentary and they have an accessibility lounge, which is like a hospitality lounge. I could see from Agatha’s eyes that she was wondering whether there would be free booze and biscuits…
We also go to the cinema quite a bit, which Agatha had never been to before. I feel like I’ve been able to open that door for her. They give her an audio description for the film, which works really well for her, and they even give us free tickets, so I can go in as her carer. It’s great.
Since I started volunteering with her, Agatha has honestly become one of my friends. I got engaged recently, and Agatha arranged for her brother to come all the way from Hertfordshire to Tooting, just so she could come to my party. She has almost no vision in the evening so she would have struggled a bit coming on her own. It was lovely because all of my friends and family have heard so much about her, so for them to meet her during such a time of celebration was wonderful. And she was able to meet all the people I’ve told her about, too.
She absolutely nailed it because she wore this beautiful Alexander McQueen dress that we’d bought in a charity shop (although she got it redesigned, because she’s just too cool). It looked brilliant and it was a really nice touch that she was wearing a dress we’d bought together. It summed it all up, really.
Agatha is really easy going and very happy to chat with people, and she’s the kind of person I would want to spend time with anyway. I remember thinking after our first meeting that the role would be an absolute pleasure. I’d gone into it knowing that my priority was to support someone, but to really enjoy spending time with her has made such a big difference.
We learn a lot from each other, too. We almost have to have an agenda when we meet as there’s always so much to discuss, and we chat a lot about our respective friends and family. We give each other a lot of advice – when I spilled red wine down my friend’s dress at a wedding, it was Agatha that I called to help me get rid of the stain.
People think that volunteering is this staid, martyr-ish thing you do, but it really doesn’t have to be like that. I’m proof that it can be something you enjoy and get a lot out of, as well as the person you are helping.
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