Neighbours in Poplar starts campaign for volunteer befrienders for Christmas

Sister Christine and some of her army of volunteers filling bags

Sister Christine and some of her army of volunteers filling bags - Credit: Tim Sullivan

A small army of 30 volunteers begins recruiting and fundraising this week to provide some comfort for the East End’s lonely and elderly at Christmas.

Sister Christine Frost

Sister Christine Frost - Credit: Spencer Griffiths on shift

The befrienders help Sister Christine Frost who has been caring for the lonely and vulnerable around Poplar, Limehouse and the Isle of Dogs for 45 years.

One of her regular campaigns is raising funds from big businesses in Canary Wharf each year to pay for food and gifts her volunteers distribute to those spending Christmas alone.

But she needs more befriendsers and kind neighbours willing to help out if they know of anyone without company.

“Most of the befrienders are ordinary people, mums and dads, some unemployed who have time on their hands,” Sister Christine explained.

“We want people who will commit themselves. Just volunteering once is no good—you have to have the time and will to do it.”

Sister Christine has been running her Neighbours in Poplar charity for 45 years, which invites anyone interested in volunteering to start by helping on Fridays at St Mathias centre in Poplar High Street where it holds twice-weekly socials for pensioners and others.

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It tests if they have rapport with the elderly and if it’s really what they want to do.

“Older people are individuals,” she adds. “You can’t just lump them together.

“We need people who care, who empathise.”

But many people working in the “caring” professions are failing those they should be looking after, the campaigning Sister fears.

She hears stories of neglect and abuse from her volunteers who visit the elderly in hospitals.

One who visited dementia patients in a hospital in Essex found they were just left to themselves.

“Those most at risk are the elderly stuck in hospitals who have no relatives,” she added. “They have no-one coming in asking questions, asking if they’re eating enough, asking how they got those bruises if they see anything.

“That’s why we need more befrienders, because there’s no accountability any more.

“The whole sense of vocation in the care services has gone. It’s supposed to be a vocation, not a business.

“But nowadays, everything seems to be on computer. You go online and tick boxes.

“That creates its own loneliness, never actually communicating face-to-face. We’re becoming an anonymous society.

“Treating people like numbers is just compounding problems for ourselves. We need to get back to a more caring, more personal society.”

Some people who today need Neighbours in Poplar started as volunteers themselves. In fact, it is Sister Christine’s motto: “We need you as volunteers now—you may need us one day.”

But you don’t have to belong to an organisation or faith group to keep an eye on your neighbour from time to time, Sister Christine points out. It’s what she says a caring society is all about.

The volunteers help run the social luncheon club every Thursday and Friday at St Mathias, Poplar High Street, 11am-3pm.

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