Manchester Cares is no longer operational – this website is for information only
Legacy

How getting to know Tommy has given me much more than a chance to volunteer

Please note: this post is 15 months old and The Cares Family is no longer operational. This post is shared for information only

Tommy (90) and Finlay (20) both live in Withington, and have been friends since January this year. Finlay has written this blog about his time with Tommy so far. A huge thank you to Finlay for sharing this!

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Sat opposite me, comfortably reclined on a black leather sofa, I find a man waiting on my arrival. A look of excitement on his face, he instructs me to pop the kettle on, “milk and no sugar son” he remarks with a smile. It’s a dark Tuesday evening and I’m making my weekly call to see someone by the name of Tommy. Tommy and I possess a unique friendship. Separated by seventy years of age, experience, memories, and life; we met though charity Manchester Cares. Tommy (aged 90) lives alone and is largely dependent on the support of friends, neighbours, and charities. Manchester Cares strive to reduce loneliness and isolation amongst older and younger people, an issue which is largely overlooked and under addressed in comparison to other societal stresses. It was through their ‘Love Your Neighbour’ programme that Tommy and I met. The programme encompasses a one-to-one friendship initiative which aims to bridge the ever-growing disconnect between older and younger generations.

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My time with Tommy has been great. He’s a real character, Manchester through and through. Growing up in Collyhurst, my meetings with Tommy usually centre on a story of his childhood. I often find myself in a fit of laughter with Tommy peering back at me with a look of confusion, puzzled as to what he said that was so funny. He doesn’t realise how amusing the events of his childhood are, how distant his youth is from mine. To him there’re merely memories of the past but to me they sound like scenes from a film. One Saturday morning, tucked cosily in a set of blue pyjamas, Tommy told me about his time in the military. As a teenager he was flown out to Sabratha in northern Libya to join a peace keeping regiment as part of mandatory national service. “It was a real surprise” he explained “far from Collyhurst I can tell you that”. For someone who hadn’t ventured much further than the outer stretches of greater Manchester it’s hard to imagine what Tommy experienced stepping onto the sand washed runway in Tripoli. Looking back, Tommy expressed that he hadn’t quite realised the dangers until now, “when you’re a young man at the age of 19 you don’t have the sense of caution you do at 90”.

At the induction meeting I attended many months ago I was asked why I wanted to be a part of the programme. My response came naturally, leaving my mouth before I had time to think. I explained that my grandparents always did a lot for me when I was growing up and now as they age, I feel it important to reciprocate the kindness I received during my childhood. I expressed how alarming I found the general lack of acknowledgement that so many young people show toward older people. After taking care of my grandparents, making visits to their neighbours or friends, I’ve formed a deeper understanding of the daily struggles some older people face. It was through discovering this new sense of compassion that I wanted to support the community of South Manchester and help others, like my grandparents, who’s monotony is aging them quicker than any illness or injury. For those who have had similar experiences caring for a grandparent or looking after an older person they will share my sympathy. But there are many people who don’t, who feel uneasy around older people or address them awkwardly, or who haven’t had the privilege or opportunity to get to know someone older.

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There are many more stories I’d love to share, though some of which Tommy probably wouldn’t be best pleased if I did, not that my delivery could ever rival his. Tommy is an excellent storyteller and an even more remarkable man. Regarded as a true community hero, Tommy’s dedicated a large proportion of his life helping others. In 2014 Tommy was named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, awarded the British Empire Medal for his services to older people and to the community of Manchester. When in conversation with one of Tommy’s priests at a parishioner’s coffee meeting he told me that the “folks round here call Tommy fish and chips”, with me having produced a look of confusion he explained “that’s because he’s always in them newspapers for all of the fantastic work he’s done for our community”.

Sat inside Tommy’s small front room I find myself being transported through a memoir of recollections, experiences, happiness, and despair. Having a close bond with somebody much older than yourself helps you to regain your sense of perspective. I think that’s one of the reasons why I’ve always taken pleasure in spending time with my grandparents, their friends and with Tommy. When placed next to a person who has seen it all, your problems no longer feel that significant. We tend to lose touch with reality, blinded by our own insecurities, stresses and fears. I guess when you haven’t experienced that much of life it’s hard to see beyond any ongoing anxieties. For that reason, I recommend joining a programme like ‘Love Your Neighbour’. Getting to know an older neighbour in your community doesn’t just offer them the opportunity to reconnect with someone younger than themselves, it can provide you with a new outlook on life and the fulfilment of gaining a genuine, long-lasting friendship. Closing the distance between older and younger generations by instilling the idea that these relationships can be mutually beneficial is exactly what the amazing team at Manchester Cares is striving to achieve.

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