'My befriendee is an inspiration'

Posted: Tuesday 16 June 2020

As a former housing officer, Ann Murphy spent much of her career speaking to a wide range of people about a variety of different subjects.

So, after retirement she wanted to put her people skills to good use and for the past 18 months she has been volunteering as a telephone befriender.

With demand for the Society’s befriending service higher than ever due to the coronavirus outbreak, Ann is urging anyone interested in receiving a call from a befriender to sign up.

Ann said: “We usually speak every fortnight, but at the moment while she’s shielding, I’m trying to call her once a week. You find when you get talking that you have lots of things in common. For example, when I left school, I moved to Belfast for work. She lives near Belfast, and although she’s a bit older than me, we remember a lot of the same places in the city that have long since gone, so it’s nice to talk about those.

“We often talk about things like cooking – she’s very keen on organic food and healthy eating. But she’s interested in so many different subjects, so we’re never short of something to talk about, and she’s very easy to chat to.”

As the calls have progressed, Ann has regularly found herself being inspired by her befriendee’s upbeat approach.

“She has a very positive outlook on everything. Although she has a number of health problems, she’s great at getting up and getting on with things. When we spoke recently, she was telling me how, because she’s currently shielding, she’s been shopping on the internet and buying the odd treat to cheer herself up. She’s brilliant – an inspiration really.”

Ann, who lives In Northern Ireland, first contacted the Macular Society after being diagnosed with pathological myopia around 20 years ago. The condition, also known as severe near sightedness, has left Ann with no central vision in her right eye.

She said: “I started noticing that anything that had vertical lines in it, like the door to my larder at home, wasn’t straight and seemed to have a wobble in it.

“I went to my GP first of all. He told me he could see something at the back of my eye, so he referred me to my optician. The optician confirmed I’d had a bleed at the back of my eye and referred me on to a local eye clinic. But they didn’t tell me much, other than that my macula was damaged, it was a degenerative condition, and nothing could really be done for me.

“Several years later, I managed to get an appointment with a consultant at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. He seemed surprised that I’d not been referred for more thorough tests previously. Had he seen me quickly when I’d first had symptoms, he may have been able to treat me, but by then, the damage had been done.

It was after this that Ann first heard about the Macular Society and initially contacted us for advice. It was at one of her local support group’s meetings she first heard about the befriending service, and was soon paired with her first befriendee.

And what’s Ann’s message to anyone interested in speaking to a befriender?

She said: “I’d absolutely recommend the service to others. It obviously helps the recipient but I find I get a lot out of it myself. We often speak for well over an hour and she’ll say to me: ‘I’m taking up too much of your time; I’d better let you get on’, but it’s nice – I just see her as a friend I talk to regularly more than anything.”

For more information about the Macular Society’s befriending service, please call 0300 3030 111 or visit macularsociety.org/telephone-befriending

The Macular Society has been awarded a £40,000 grant from The National Lottery Community Fund to help provide an increased range of remote services in Northern Ireland, including telephone befriending, following the coronavirus outbreak. The award of this latest grant takes the total amount of funding awarded to the Macular Society by the National Lottery Community Fund in Northern Ireland to £690,000 since 2009.