Imagine what it must be like to have lived in Lincoln for fifty-five years, where you raised your family of three sons, and then you faced the upheaval of moving to Borehamwood. You had worked for over fifty years in an important and technical job as a fitting engineer. You took early retirement to look after your dear father who had Alzheimer’s and poor physical health. As a very sociable and active person, you were known in the local community. You then uprooted. How would you cope with this change?
This is the situation that Charanji faced three years ago when be moved to Borehamwood, with his wife Kanta. Over a cup of coffee and a biscuit, in their immaculately tidy home, I was pleased to hear about how Charanji adjusted. In short, he threw himself into the local community, got to know new people and places, and soon settled in. Communities 1st played an important part in this.
I stumbled on Communities 1st
Charanji, born in India and now in his early seventies, explained that he moved to Borehamwood to be near one of his sons. “I didn’t really know anyone or the area at all. I went exploring and just wandered around. By chance, I spotted the Communities 1st hoarding, thought it sounded interesting, and went into the office to find out more. I signed up as a volunteer!” He became a shopping volunteer, and he proudly remembers his first job in March 2021 – “I was in Tesco for over an hour and a half, looking for all the items! Fortunately, I’ve got much quicker since then!”
He went on to do shopping for vulnerable people in Elstree, Borehamwood, and Potters Bar. He would also collect and deliver prescriptions. At the start, because of COVID, he helped quite a large number of people and they often had long shopping lists! Charanji kept busy.
Getting to know people through regular shopping
The demand for shopping has quietened down and today Charanji shops for 2-3 people, nearly every week. He estimates that he volunteers for about six hours a week for Communities 1st. He told me that “you slowly get to know the people you shop for regularly. The gentlemen I shopped for this morning likes me to do his shopping because I now know what he likes. The lady I shop for on Thursdays is quite particular – she doesn’t want me to buy substitutes for items on the list when they’re not available.”
Charanji also helps a lady walk around her house. She has very poor mobility and Communities 1st agreed that Charanji could help her in this way. He visits her a couple of times each week. She is very appreciative of this support.
“I’m not special… I’m just an ordinary person.”
You would have thought this volunteering was enough to keep Charanji fully occupied. Think again, because he volunteers not only for Communities 1st but also for a local foodbank; Reach Out which supports people who are lonely; a local Dementia Club; and a Visually Impaired Sight Club. He also shops for one of his friends.
Clearly, Charanji is a very busy man. He personifies the saying that “if you want something done, ask a busy person.” To make sure he is in the right place at the right time he keeps a detailed diary which he showed me. He has a record of all his volunteering. He takes great pride in what he does, and he is driven by a deep-rooted wish to help others. “I enjoy meeting people, understanding their needs, and helping,” he told me. “I get great satisfaction if I can help someone.”
“But”, he emphasised, “I’m not special or doing anything extraordinary. I’m an ordinary person. Helping makes me feel how lucky I am.” This is where I, respectfully, disagree with Charanji because I think he is very special. I’m not the only one who thinks that. He dug out from his file a somewhat faded card which Communities 1st sent him to thank him for his volunteering. Nine members of staff had signed the card and one had written “Thank you for all the fantastic volunteering. You provide help and support to the local community.” Charanji really appreciated the card “because it was so unexpected.” He treasures it.
How does he keep going?
I wondered how it was that Charanji was able to sustain this high level of volunteering. The answer is that his wife, Kanta supports him. She will take phone messages, and this is important because Charanji does have a hearing loss and doesn’t find the phone easy. She has no problem with him volunteering because she knows it makes him happy. I commented that she is a bit like a secretary. Charanji laughed and sheepishly added “an unpaid secretary!” Kanta saw the joke! She has also become a supporter of Communities 1st and enjoys talking to the staff when she answers the phone.
Aberford Bowling Club
Charanji relaxes in many ways “walking, messing around the house, and meeting the family and eight grandchildren.” When he was in Lincoln, he enjoyed playing bowls. Now, he is a keen bowler with the Aberford Bowling Club, run by Communities 1st. Kanta doesn’t bowl but she will go to the club to meet people and have a chat. Charanji is enthusiastic and has encouraged three people to take up bowling at Aberford. He will also help with the teas.
For Charanji, his volunteering isn’t anything special. Rather it is part of his way of life. He and Kanta have settled into Borehamwood very well and volunteering with Communities 1st was instrumental in helping this to happen.
Written by: Chris Cloke, Communities 1st Volunteer