Celebrating Dementia Action Week

It’s Dementia Action Week and we’re celebrating our people who have become Dementia Friends, through our charity partnership with Alzheimer’s Society.

Chris Maguire in People

18 May 2022

Last year 562 of our people became Dementia Friends and so far this year (up to end of April) a further 195 have joined them.

Those who have taken part really valued the training and many commented how it’s helped them both inside and outside of work.

We also have colleagues who have gone a step further and have become Companion Call volunteers. One of these volunteers is Chris Maguire, National Trading Centre and Motor Trade Branch Manager. He shared what inspired him to get involved and what it means to be a Companion Call volunteer.

What’s it like to be a Companion Call volunteer? How have you found it?

I have been a Companion Caller now for the last 18 months. I have a call with two people each week that are living with dementia and have requested the support of a Companion Caller through the Alzheimer’s Society. In the early stages of the pandemic I was keen to get involved in volunteering but wasn’t sure how or where best to do that. I saw an article about AXA’s support for the Alzheimer’s Society and specifically the request for Companion Callers so I went for it. Initially there’s some online training to complete which really helped to understand the importance of the role, how to do it well and also helped build a basic understanding of dementia. I was then matched with two people to make first contact with. I’ve been speaking to the same people now, every week, for 18 months and it has been a fantastic experience. There have been ups and downs in their lives and mine and it has really felt like the calls have been incredibly valuable especially in a time where social contact has been limited.

What does a usual call look like?

Every call is different and so are the individuals but in the early days the calls were very much about getting to know each other. We agreed how often the calls would be and in my case they are weekly and are generally 30 minutes long. We talk a lot about our week, just as you would any friend or family member, but we also talk about memories from the past as it’s often more recent memories that dim first. I talk to two very different people-one who is super chatty and is literally sitting by the phone waiting for the call and one who has less social interaction and struggles more with general conversation. I have to tailor my approach a little to get the best out of the calls. 

What do you think you’ve gained from volunteering?

I think what we do at work is great and I love my job but I also like that I can contribute more to the wider community. I have gained a real positive feeling from being able to help and support people and I have learned more about dementia. I set out believing that I was doing this for the reasons given but I have also gained two new friends. I thoroughly look forward to the conversations and I spend most of one of the calls laughing as we have some really fun chats. It’s also led to a number of important chats at work and at home. Quite often when people hear that you’re doing this they share some of their own experiences and there are some people I have got to know far better as a result.

What would you to say to someone who is nervous about becoming a volunteer?

I was nervous about volunteering. I wasn’t sure how much time I’d need to commit and I wondered if I would need to be an expert in dementia. I had completed the Dementia Friends training and run sessions in my department a few years ago and I remembered the reaction from some of my own team who had family members living with dementia. For that reason it felt like something I should explore more. The reality is you don’t need to be an expert and the time commitment isn’t huge. You do need to be reliable, empathetic and it helps if you enjoy a chat. All in, I’d encourage anyone to give it a go.

If volunteering in this way is something that interests you and you’re keen to help people with dementia and their carers feel more connected and less lonely, you can find out more about what’s involved and how to volunteer via Alzheimer's Society.