“It’s good to help put a smile on people’s faces!”

Irina is a telephone befriender with Communities 1st. She was born in Romania and lived in a small village in the countryside. “Where I grew up, there was a strong sense of community,” she told me. “Everyone knew each other. People helped their neighbours and were very supportive.” Her experience in Romania helped shape Irina’s outlook on life and her wish to help other people. Communities 1st resonated well with her thinking.

When she was in her late twenties, Irina came to the UK, living first in Stanmore and now in Borehamwood for the past ten years. Her job as a lighting engineer, which she loves, keeps her very busy. In addition, she has two sons, aged 13 and 16. She and her husband live busy lives. “Even though there’s a lot going on in my life,” she explained, “I still believe it is important to make some time, however small, to help others.”  

Irina smiling

We don’t go on forever so make the best of the here and now

Like so many of our volunteers, it was COVID that made Irina, stop, and think about how she could help. “At the start of COVID, we all had a bit of time to think and consider what will make a difference. I wanted to find a bit of goodness. We haven’t got forever so it is important to take action now to make people happier,” Irina argued. “It makes you feel good when you can help put a smile on people’s faces.”

During COVID, Irina helped by doing shopping for people who were unable to leave their homes. She was doing shopping nearly every other day. Today, she is not doing so much shopping as the demand for the service has dropped. Instead, she is doing telephone befriending which she finds fits in very well with her busy schedule.

“… We’re not setting out to solve the problems of the world!”

Irina telephones Beryl* once a week for a catch-up. They talk for about 15-20 minutes. To begin with Beryl seemed a little wary about the phone calls but Irina is pleased that they have established a trusting relationship. “I took things very slowly to build up the trust. I tried to keep things simple, after all we’re not trying to solve the problems of the world! I feel we have a built a good relationship. We talk about all sorts of things!”

Irina is pleased to help because she is mindful that members of her family in Romania are receiving help from their community. Sadly, her mother experienced cancer and needed a lot of help. The community – family and neighbours – responded willingly.  “That’s exactly how it should be,” Irina concluded.

After each call Irina will complete a short note for Communities 1st. She feels supported by Communities 1st and knows they are always available if she has any concerns. “Communities 1st provide a range of services.  This is very valuable. We really make a difference,” she explained.

Irina is proud to volunteer with Communities 1st and she is now looking to become an Ambassador. It is interesting to see how Communities 1st enables volunteers to develop their roles as their circumstances and availability change. Irina is someone with a strong commitment and while her role may change, she will always want to help others.


*Not her real name.


Written by: Chris Cloke, Communities 1st Volunteer

Irina smiling