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University student becomes a 'social lifeline' for lonely older people

Article By: Melissa McAlees

A chance encounter with an elderly lady on a canal bank inspired busy student, Imogen Horn, to give up her time and volunteer as a befriender for a local charity.

Befriender and fundraiser Imogen Horn

The 21-year-old now loves spending time with 83-year-old Vera and is taking on three gruelling swimming challenges to raise funds to help support Wimbledon Guild’s charitable work.

Ms Horn, who is studying medicine at St George’s University, said: “I was on a walk along a canal one day and I saw an older lady on the opposite bank – I’m not really sure why but I had an urge to wave to her.

“She waved back and I carried on but she still stood there. It was such a brief interaction but it really touched me for some reason.

“Then I couldn't stop thinking about how little effort we make to reach out to others who are not strictly relevant and central to our everyday lives. It made me think how many thousands of people there are out there, young and old, who are lonely and isolated.”

The plight of those suffering from loneliness continued to play on Ms Horn’s mind until she found Wimbledon Guild. As well as offering a free independent and professional advice service, the charity provides a daily lunch club and activities programme for people aged 50 and over, and offers a befriending service for those who are isolated, lonely or housebound.

She explained: “I decided to have a look into the work Wimbledon Guild does and I was so impressed. I was so pleased to hear that the charity is such a lifeline for so many people. I looked into volunteering and found the befriending scheme most suited me and that is how it began.”

Ms Horn spends two hours a week with Vera and says the relationship has enriched her own life. The two have become firm friends and she is urging others to come forward and join the befriending team.

“I love being a befriender,” she said. “I am paired with one of the most interesting, strong and kind-hearted women I have ever met. I have learnt a huge amount from her and also found a great friend.”

She added: “Befriending is definitely not what I imagined. I thought it would be a very tame and gentle chat over a cup of tea whilst I desperately thought of what to say next - it is far from that. We have become really close, to the point where it is like talking to one of my housemates. I hope I have in some way improved her life, as she has certainly more than done the same for me.

“When you think about it, there are so many people in this position and I wish we could all do something about it and open our doors to let people in and likewise be welcomed in by others.”

Inspired by Wimbledon Guild’s work, Ms Horn has been tackling three open water challenges, swimming almost 20km to raise funds to support the charity. Having already completed the Great London Swim at Docklands and the Long Reach Swim along the Thames near Oxford, her final swim finishes with the River Adur 5km near Brighton. So far, Ms Horn has raised over £500.

Emma Aldridge, Wimbledon Guild’s Head of Welfare, said: “As Imogen has found, these visits can not only make a huge difference to the lives of older people but also to our volunteers.

“We wouldn’t be able to fulfil our vision to improve the wellbeing of people in Merton without the help of our volunteers like Imogen and we are grateful to each and every one of them.”


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