This week we talk to Michele who is President HELP VEGA BAJA a charity registered with the Valencian Authority as a Volunteer Organisation. We chat about volunteering in Spain, loneliness and connections.
Hello Michele! How did you end up living in Spain and where are you based?
My husband Tony and I decided that we wanted a new adventure and as we already had an apartment here it seemed the obvious choice to move over and see where life took us! As a child I had always had a passion for Spain and my dream had been to marry a tall, dark handsome Spaniard – I guess a tall, dark and handsome Londoner is close!
As a Mum with two daughters and a full-time job in the UK life was always very busy. I lived in the South West of England and for 15 years I worked in the NHS which I enjoyed immensely. As part of the on-call team, you never knew what was going to happen and if I was on-call it often did! I remember one day being called in to find a Sky News van, tv, radio the lot in the hospital car-park following an incident – fun times with both happy memories
Now you live in Torrevieja – tell us why we should move there too!
Torrevieja receives some criticism but I love the diversity and culture. I live on the outskirts of the town which has mainly Spanish owned properties that are used primarily in the summer months so the area is very quiet in the winter. Everything is here that we need – entertainment from bars, café’s and some great restaurants to a fantastic health service and much more in between.
There is always something going on in the town and I’m told its one of the healthiest places to live. After 16 years here, we have become accustomed to the laid-back approach to life and the café culture – the retail therapy is pretty good too!
And you are President of a local charity. Why did you start working with HELP VEGA BAJA?
After helping with a local dog charity for a while and then a cancer charity, I decided I needed to look for something which could possibly use the skills I had from my professional career. I looked around and came across HELP Vega Baja. The charity has been helping people for over 36 years now and is very forward thinking and I like that. When the opportunity to stand as President came up I took it and I am blessed with a great team around me. With the support of our volunteers and people in the community it is a fantastic feeling when at the end of the day I can go home and know that we have made a difference in someone’s life or in that of another charity that we have supported. What can be better than that!
There is a new project called the Connections Team. What do they do?
The Connections Team is a new venture for us but one that is proving to be much needed and extremely popular. The first month since it was set up has surpassed all our expectations. The team are trained listeners and offer a 24 hour confidential emotional support helpline on 966 723 733 – it has already grown to the point that we are arranging for a further telephone line to be installed and will announce this shortly. Sometimes just having someone to talk to about what is troubling you can make the world of difference to the way you feel.
The team is also able to offer guidance of other support that may be available. We receive calls on issues such as bereavement, financial worries, relationship and family problems to name just a few. Some people find it difficult to even pick up the phone so we also offer support via email and people can get in touch with the team at firstname.lastname@example.org We are very grateful to everyone that is helping us raise awareness about the team and of course for the wonderful work that the team is providing.
How are English people facing the possible Brexit?
As a charity we meet regularly with for example, the British Consulate and on the whole it seems that people are up to date with the situation with regard to expats. The advice we receive from the consulate is always that people should ensure that if they intend to make Spain their permanent home, they sign on to the padrón and become legally registered. The questions that people always seek clarification on are healthcare and pensions. Here at HELP Vega Baja we update our Facebook Page with information on Brexit from official sources.
We would like to emphasise to people that if they are worried about any aspect of Brexit that they either visit the gov.uk website or they can of course come through to us and we will pass on their concerns to the consulate. Please do not listen to “Bob in the Bar” – his advice tends to be flawed!
And something which affects many people here is loneliness. What advice would you give?
Loneliness is a very serious issue – loneliness doesn’t necessarily mean that you are alone. Many people are in relationships and can still feel lonely. It is a real problem – particularly as families and loved ones are often not close at hand. Firstly, I would suggest they tell someone. Obviously there is the Connections Team, a neighbour, a friend, doctor or contact a local charity. We have lists of groups and associations that we can put you in touch with. Get out as much as you can – not always easy, particularly if you are caring.
Again, charities such as HELP Vega Baja have a Welfare Officer who can ensure you are receiving all the benefits that you may be entitled to. This can often make the difference between someone being able to afford some respite for a couple of hours a week or not. If you can, go for a walk, have a coffee out – the fresh air and saying hello to someone as you pass can help. Perhaps volunteer – there are so many different charities offering all sorts of different roles and usually something that will interest you.
If I could wave a magic wand, what could we help you with?
Raising Awareness. Charities are restricted in the amount of publicity they can afford to pay for – the funds are needed to support others. Social media such as Facebook and forums like this have made a huge difference and certainly helps to inform people of how charities can help them and to reassure them that they do not have to cope alone. Twenty more volunteers would also be useful if there is any magic left in the wand!
What area does the charity cover?
Officially we cover the Vega Baja area from La Marina to Pilar de Horadada and inland but particularly with the Connections Team we are happy to answer calls from further afield. We offer advice and information on all aspects of living in Spain, have Friendship Groups, Parkinson’s Group, Diabetic Group, Welfare Officer, Charity Shop, Mobility Equipment hire, Hospital Visiting team and the new Connections Team. We also have 1700 members who for an annual fee of just 10 euros receive benefits such as interpreting service, professional help when discharged from hospital and much more – details on our website www.helpvegabaja.com
We work closely with British Consulate, other charities and social services who refer families to us for support. Through fundraising events and support in the community we were able to donate in excess of 35,000 euros last year to good causes and are on track to exceed this in 2018.
What does it mean to you personally to be a volunteer?
Much of my life is taken up with my role as President and I enjoy every minute! People come in to volunteering for all sorts of reasons and many go on to make friendships that extend outside of the charity. We have a fantastic team – we laugh together, do crazy things and sometimes cry together but at the end of the day, whatever role we play in the charity we have one thing in common and that is that we will, in some way, make a difference. I love the variety of my role – one day I am sweeping the office and the next I am chairing a meeting of local charities, trying to obtain sponsorship for a project, presenting a donation and quite often working out how I am going to explain to the long-suffering HELP Vega Baja committee my latest idea when they are still recovering from the last!
When you aren’t working for the charity we would find you….
Probably walking one of our three dogs or sat in a local café with husband Tony and a big piece of cake!
Favourite summer song?
Has to be “Happy” Pharrell Williams
Something you will get up to over the summer?
The charity keeps going all through the summer, so it will be pretty much business as usual. We are expecting more calls to the Connection Team over the summer as this is the time when unfortunately many clubs and groups close down and people who are alone often feel isolated more.
Some volunteers will be returning to the UK to visit family and friends so it is often all hands on deck but that’s fine. Volunteering is great – whatever the time of year!
Thank you Michele!
Find out more about the good work of HELP Vega Baja by visiting their website www.helpvegabaja.com
Help to donate: https://www.facebook.com/helpvegabaja/