Leonard, Paul and Warren: “I get to feel as if I’m wanted”

Voluntary Norfolk's community befrienders programme helps dozens of vulnerable people across the city.

Great-great-grandfather Leonard Haigh moved into a care home when his health deteriorated suddenly 18 months ago.

A series of heart problems which affected his mobility left the 91-year-old rugby league-mad Yorkshireman housebound and dependent upon round-the-clock support.

He was being 'driven absolutely crackers' in his room at the St Clements care home in north Norwich when he was referred to Voluntary Norfolk's befriending scheme, which paired him with volunteers Paul, 56, and Warren, 40.

'A lot of people think because you are in one of these places, you aren't right in your mind,' said Leonard. 'It's not true. People in here are still part of the community.

'I live within these four walls, and after a while it gets very claustrophobic.

'We have got the best carers you could ever ask for, but they can't do it all, which is where Paul and Warren come in.'

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Leonard says the two make a good team – 'Warren pushes the wheelchair and Paul makes the tea' – as they take him for a regular dose of fresh air in his wheelchair, before a cup of tea and a chinwag.

'If you don't talk to people you go mad,' said Leonard, whose former jobs include window cleaner, bus conductor, engineer and postman. 'If I was locked in here all the time and didn't get out for a chat, I'd go absolutely stark raving bonkers.'

Despite not being able to go far, Len looks forward to Paul and Warren's visits and says they have improved his health.

'I get to feel as if I'm wanted,' he said. 'They are a time to take the pressure off. I get some fresh air and have a natter about everything.'

Paul has been a volunteer for 13 years, having started giving his time as 'a distraction' from his own ill-health.

'It started off like that, but it's since become a vocation.

'You can't help caring for people,' he said. 'You start by getting to know and become interested in them and caring for them.'

The regular visits have fostered a friendship between the three, and Paul, a talented musician, has even given guitar recitals for other guests at the home.

He said: 'Len has had a rich life, and with him being of a different generation, it's fascinating to hear him reminisce about the past and his wartime experiences. It's no chore at all: we've learned all kinds of things and enjoy spending time together.'