A CHATTY charity volunteer from Kilwinning has described how she’s forged a fabulous friendship - while doing her bit to tackle loneliness among older people.

Charlie McGill, 23, has shared her experience of being a Phone Friend as the opportunity to benefit from it is expanded to every over-65 in Ayrshire.

The latest service to be launched by Food Train – which helps older people to live better lives in their own homes – is being expanded from one simply open to its members to one that the public generally can access.

It connects an older person with a volunteer who regularly phones them for a chat - giving them someone with whom they can share how they are and enjoy a laugh.

Charlie, who works as a financial assistant, became involved with Food Train as a Phone Friend while looking for volunteering opportunities as the pandemic took hold.

She said: “I have built a great friendship with the lady I phone every week.

“At the start we just made small talk. Then slowly we started to find out small bits about each other’s lives. I now class her as a great friend. We share great laughs about stories from when she was younger and compare it to the things I get up to, for example dating and how much things have changed since she was my age.

“We also confide in one another. Sometimes I think it’s a good thing that we were strangers before because it makes it easier to open up and there’s no judgement.”

Food Train first opened its Phone Friends to members after volunteers made check-in calls to older people during lockdown - to ensure people were well and had all they needed.

The response to it has been so positive that the service - which costs £5 per month to join - is being made available to non-members too. Calls can be weekly, fortnightly or less often.

Charlie said: “My phone friend always tells me how much she looks forward to my call every week and thanks me for taking time out to

have a natter with her and make sure she’s all right.

“I would like to think it’s made a difference to her. Although, if I’m being honest, it’s not one-sided - she makes a great difference to my life too.”

“If I’m having a bad day, sometimes the last thing I want to do is speak to someone but as soon as I’m on the phone to her I’m so glad I called because sharing stories and talking about everything and anything really helps.

“I look forward to speaking to her every week.”

On one of the key moments in their relationship so far, Charlie recalled: “We’d spoken for more than six months but my phone friend had never mentioned her late husband or went into detail about him. I never asked as I didn’t want to upset her.

“But one week she fully opened up to me and told me about their romantic life together and many lovely personal stories. At that point I knew she trusted me. I felt emotional after coming off the call as I felt a huge bond with her.”

Phone Friends is the latest way in which Food Train has been working to break down geographical barriers in regions such as North, South and East Ayrshire where it does not currently have a physical branch.

The need for it was highlighted by check-in calls made to members during the pandemic, including those in Ayrshire who are part of Food Train Connects.

Morna O’May, who is overseeing Food Train’s Phone Friends service, said: “Covid has had a huge impact on older people who have had to shield and isolate. Because of the length of time this is going on for, they are losing confidence in being able to get back out and about again in public.

“It is creating a situation where people who had a connection to their community are losing that and those who were already isolated are feeling it even more keenly.

“The Phone Friend service is an ideal way to make connections again from the safe environment of your own home.

“We have volunteers vetted, trained and ready to be matched. Because it is a phone service, geography doesn’t matter - we can match an older person with a volunteer anywhere in Scotland.”

For more information, call 0800 048 9945 or email phonefriends@foodtrainconnects.org.uk.