Hitting the right note together. How a shared interest in jazz has made life more interesting for both Freddy and his volunteer befriender Peter.
Since November 2015 academic Peter Auger, 30, spends one lunch time a week chatting with Somers Town resident, Freddy. The pair were matched because they both share an interest in music. Peter likes to sing and can play the piano – but it’s classical jazz that octogenarian Freddy loves to talk about.
“We meet at Freddy’s home, which is a two-minute walk from the British Library. I always take my packed lunch – usually cheese and pickle sandwiches. He’s usually had his lunch. Then we talk, mostly about jazz. Freddy reads jazz magazines and buys and listens to CDs. I think he was formerly a drummer. We don’t listen to music. We chat. He really likes Oscar Peterson the jazz pianist and the British jazz saxophonist Tubby Hayes,” says Peter. “I’ve learnt quite a bit, and seeing his enthusiasm is educational too.”
For Peter, who is employed by Queen Mary University of London and spends much of his time in the British Library’s Rare Books & Music Reading Room, having lunch with Freddy is a relaxing way to switch off from the intensity of his post doctoral research. His subject of study being Guillaume Du Bartas, “an obscure French poet who no one has heard of, who was James VI and James I’s favourite poet,” and who penned religious poetry in the 16th century.
While for Freddy, who lives alone, it’s a way to guarantee a good chat.
“Meeting Freddy is very worthwhile,” explains softly-spoken Peter. “For me it’s a change of scene and a welcome break and puts things in perspective: I see someone 40-50 years older than me and hear about his daily concerns. It takes me out of my head space for a time as we don’t talk about my work or me.”
Occasionally the pair walk to the nearest Greggs, or another café that Freddy likes in Camden Town. “But we squabble over who buys,” says Peter smiling. “I like to keep it equal, but he’s extremely generous.”
Peter has been a befriender before. For two years he visited a housebound man in Oxford who rarely went out – and passed away in 2013. Since moving to London he’s also had two mentees from Praxis, which matches foreign national offenders with mentors. These volunteering experiences helped him realise that for him befriending works best if his new friend lives close to his work. “I was keen to get involved volunteering here, but I find it difficult in London because I’m moving around because I rent. I’m in Finchley at the moment but my wife and I are moving in two weeks down to Borough, and that’s only temporary. So I hit on the smart idea of volunteering close to work.”
Peter was advised that befriending volunteers need to offer a six month minimum commitment, but thanks to his trick of meeting at lunch time Freddy and Peter have been meeting up every Tuesday for nearly a year. The day may change, but Peter plans to keep visiting Freddy for a long time to come.
“I’m very happy doing this volunteering,” adds Peter, “it feels very natural. As a volunteer I’ve done admin, fundraising and teaching English as a foreign language but this just fits into an hour a week. It’s worthwhile, direct and self-contained.”
Origin Housing runs the volunteer befriending scheme for any Somers Town residents over 60, not just those in the 1,800 properties it manages around Chalton Street, NW1. “Befriending is a way to reduce loneliness and isolation for all residents. It’s good for people visited and the people visiting. We definitely want more befrienders,” says Jon Foster at Origin Housing who administers the scheme. There are currently just 20 people volunteering as befrienders, so if befriending is something that interests you or you’d like to request a befriender, visit www.originhousing.org.uk/support/befriending to find out more.