‘It’s not just a lunch, it’s a lifeline’

Last week I posted about the fantastic work that one of our bold partners, the Eric Liddell Centre, is doing to alleviate the isolation and loneliness of people in the local community during the lockdown. I’ve been volunteering with the Centre’s lunch delivery programme since it started on the 6th April and in this post I thought I’d share my experiences with you.

Like many people, when Scotland first went into lockdown on 23rd March I initially got caught up in a frenzy of activity. Then, once all of our planned workshops and events had been postponed or cancelled, I experienced what’s been called ‘The Great Humbling’. I realised that as a non-essential worker the most useful thing I could do was stay at home. I was fortunate that my part-time role with bold kept me occupied. The Scottish dementia landscape needs leaders from all walks of life more than ever and the bold team are busy working on creative ways of delivering our leadership development programme that satisfy evolving social distancing measures. However, I sorely missed that immediate sense of contribution and direct connection with people’s lives.

I found out about the lunch delivery programme on 3rd April through social media. My sister knew I was feeling a bit disconnected and forwarded a WhatsApp message from the Centre asking for volunteers. I immediately phoned the CEO, John Macmillan, hoping the Centre had not already reached capacity. Given its excellent reputation and extensive community networks, the response had been swift and strong, but John told me they still needed a couple more volunteers. I sent my details to the lovely Zsofia who is coordinating the lunch programme and felt my mood lift instantly.

The programme is incredibly well organised. Zsofia responded quickly, emailing me a volunteer pack including a job description, volunteer agreement, letter of authorisation, volunteer badge and even a sign to display in the car windscreen. Importantly, there were crystal clear guidelines covering everything from the provision and wearing of masks and gloves, steps to ensure social distancing, the confidential handling of addresses and who to contact when the lunches had been delivered, with any queries and in an emergency. Everything was brought together in a matter of days. Together with my driver (my husband Iain) I’ve been helping with the ‘Monday run’ since the 6th April.

Each Friday Zsofia emails the list of names, addresses and the date and time we’ve to collect the lunches from the Centre the following week. The list varied a little over the first couple of weeks. I’d print it out and Iain would check out any unfamiliar addresses on his Saturday morning cycle. He’d then plan the most logical delivery route. The Centre is delivering around 100 lunches every week day and the collection times are carefully staggered to ensure social distancing. Each Monday we make sure we arrive at our allotted time. We knock on the side door and Fiona, the Centre’s terrific cook, opens it, steps back and invites us in. Gloves and masks are set out and the lunches for our
delivery run are sitting on a trolley, each in its own paper bag. Those meeting dietary requirements or preferences are clearly labelled and face the front.

Over the last few weeks we’ve had the same list of addresses and collection time and this has really increased our sense of connection with the people receiving the lunches. We know the route, their names, addresses and dietary preferences by heart. Although the service is contactless, we feel we are getting to know the people too in different ways. And they know when we’re coming and who to expect.

A few of the properties have main doors. In one such case, although I haven’t seen or spoken to the lady who lives inside, I know her preference for brown bread and there is always a little ‘please and thank you’ note sticking out the letter box. In another case, the occupant must look out for us because I can always see his silhouette through the inside glass door as I place the lunch bag on his doorstep. He waits until I’ve retreated through his garden gate before opening the door and I have a little chat with him from safe distance. He stands and waves and waves as we drive off.
Most people on our list live in flats, which has meant getting to grips with various door entry systems. I now know that one lady is recovering from a broken ankle and takes several minutes to answer the buzzer. Another is very hard of hearing and often doesn’t hear the buzzer, especially if she is watching TV or on the phone. I know which of her neighbours is likely to be at home and will happily let me into the stair. One man who lives in a second floor flat opens his door after I’ve dropped off the lunch and when I reach the first landing he shouts down and we have a conversation up the stairwell too. When I press the buzzer I’ve started to prefix ‘it’s the Eric Liddell Centre’ with my name and last week he surprised and delighted me by using it when I concluded with my customary ‘take care’.
The last lunch drop is to a couple. On answering the buzzer the lady used to ask ‘have you been before’ to establish if I needed directions, but now says ‘ah, you’ve been before’. She has always said ‘before I release the door, can I say a huge thank you to everyone at the Eric Liddell Centre and thank you for giving up your time on such a wet /windy / sunny day’. Our exchange through the intercom has gradually built over the weeks. It’s just small talk, such as mentioning that I’ve noticed there’s a little cake in with the lunch topped with lots of butter icing and in turn being informed of her husband’s sweet tooth, that it will give them both a boost, that they’ll miss these treats when this all finishes. I look forward to these weekly exchanges enormously.

As I mentioned in my last post, the lunch programme is just one example of how the Eric Liddell Centre’s vision of bringing communities together to respond to isolation, loneliness and disconnection is being realised. It’s a collaboration between charitable organisations, local private businesses and a host of donors and community volunteers. Providing a nourishing lunch is of course important, but as one recipient said to me ‘it’s not just a lunch, it’s a lifeline.’ The lunch says your community cares about, you’re not forgotten about, you’re not alone and we want you to stay well. I’ve welcomed the opportunity to do something practical and positive. It’s eased my own sense of disconnection. I’ll miss it too.