Isolation and loneliness have been significant problems in recent times, and many older people have therefore signed up for Age NI’s Check In and Chat service which provides a weekly phone conversation for them with a friendly volunteer.
But when one older person - 75-year-old Jim from East Belfast - took a call recently as part of the initiative, he didn’t bargain on Carl Frampton being on the other end of the line, thanks to a link-up between the charity and Ulster Bank.
Check In and Chat was launched last year, with the support of the Commissioner for Older People, as a way to help address loneliness and isolation resulting from COVID-19 restrictions.
A team of Ulster Bank’s staff have been volunteering for Check In and Chat over recent months and they were joined on Thursday by the legendary former world champion boxer.
Check In and Chat has been in such high demand that Age NI wants to make it a longer-term initiative, and the bank is providing financial backing to help kick start its new fundraising campaign. Carl Frampton was helping make the announcement.
To date, more than 20,000 calls have been made to older people in Northern Ireland. With over 80,000 people aged over 65 living alone, and ongoing issues of social isolation, Age NI plans to extend the service further.
Linda Robinson, Chief Executive of Age NI explains: “As life starts to return to a new normal for many of us, sadly, the crippling loneliness and isolation of the past year is going to continue for some older people. One lady described it as excruciating. Check In and Chat is there to make sure no-one gets left behind and over this last 15 months, we have seen the incredible power of a friendly weekly call to keep people connected and simply talking.
“Ulster Bank’s support for our Check In and Chat service is much appreciated, as is their staff’s commitment to volunteering to make calls to older people. They are truly providing a lifeline to individuals, many of whom are without family or friends. One older person described her Ulster Bank volunteer as “a life saver”.
“Having a trusted partner like Ulster Bank kick-starting our appeal is significant as they are acutely aware of the experience of their older customers and the need for us all, as a community, to rally around our older family, friends and neighbours. Every donation to this service will ensure that older people know we are here for them and value the contribution they in turn make to all our lives.”
Joanne Wilson, Ulster Bank’s Customer Experience Lead for Customer Contact, says: “Ulster Bank has partnered with Age NI on its Check In and Chat service as we believe it is doing fantastic work supporting older people who may be isolated and lonely. Our team have been really enthusiastically engaged in the initiative and we were delighted to bring Carl to the building on Thursday to help them and to communicate our support.”
“We also wanted to help Age NI bring public attention to Check In and Chat and to encourage companies and members of the public to get behind it. Demand for Check In and Chat has been very high, and Age NI needs more funding to expand the service to meet the demand. Involving Carl was one way in which we thought we could help raise awareness of the initiative and spread the word,” she adds.
Carl Frampton said: “Ulster Bank asked me to support Check In and Chat and I was absolutely delighted to. It’s fantastic and something that I strongly feel is making a positive difference. It has helped a lot of people during the pandemic and can play a really important role into the longer-term. So, I would encourage people to get behind it.”
“It was great to talk with Jim. He thought he was getting a call from Age NI’s chief executive to talk with him about Check In and Chat, so I think he was a bit surprised when he realised who was on the other end of the line. We talked about football, fishing and some people it turned out we both knew. Jim was a real gent and I’m really glad he enjoyed the conversation,” he adds.
Anyone over 60 in Northern Ireland can register free of charge, to receive a regular telephone call from a specially matched, trained Check In and Chat volunteer. All they need to do is call Age NI Advice on 0808 808 7575 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To support Check in and Chat by volunteering or making a donation, visit www.ageni.org/checkinandchat21