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Oyster Partnership lending an ear to Octavia Foundation

Oyster Partnership lending an ear to Octavia Foundation

The pandemic and in particular lockdown has had a profound impact on various aspects of our lives. From not being able to go into work, going out only to exercise or shop for essentials to not being able to see our family and friends and having to rely heavily on technology to keep us connected we’ve all had to adapt the way we interact with the outside world. 

For one part of society the technology we rely on and the outings we now look forward to are sadly not possible. Isolation in our elderly population has increased and they now rely on either a phone call with a relative or a neighbour or services provided by organisation’s that aim to reduce loneliness. 


Octavia Foundation is a charitable organisation specialising in helping older and more vulnerable people in London. The Foundation was founded by Octavia Housing Association in 2006 and has been doing amazing work in helping those in need since. The services offered by Octavia include employment training, assistance with money & debt, work with young people, community along with help and support for the elderly.


Rob, Divisional Manager & Jas, Associate Director were the first two people from Oyster to befriend an elderly person over the phone through Octavia Foundation. 

Here is a round-up on how it is going so far!

Jaspreet Bhogal, Associate Director, Oyster Partnership

Oyster Partnership lending an ear to Octavia Foundation

How did you get involved in the Octavia befriending service?

As a recruitment company we’ve worked with the Octavia Foundation for a couple of years volunteering interview advice to some of their service users. When the COVID crisis first emerged I contacted Liz at the foundation and asked if there was anything we could help with, and she mentioned the befriending service – it seemed like such a simple but effective idea so as soon as I could, I applied!

Why did you decide to do this? 

When I was being told about the service it was hard not to want to get involved. Hearing that there were hundreds of elderly residents who were looking for 2 phone calls a week so they felt less isolated during lockdown was extremely moving, I couldn’t wait to get started!

What was the process like from signing up to the first conversation?

Really simple, there was an online application form followed by virtual training. The training was great as it explained logistically how this would work but also prepared us for various issues that we may come up against. This was all followed up with the training material so it’s useful to refresh myself with anything if needed. After training I was sent the profiles of two residents that were looking for someone to talk to, I went back and selected one and went from there.

Do you have the same person you call every time or do the people change? 

We talk to the same person each time, so it’s great because you quickly develop a relationship with the person you speak to and they become part of your weekly routine. 

How has it been going so far? 

Really good! I speak to Vera twice a week and I’ve learned so much about her and her life! I’m also finding that if I’m having a stressful day/ morning at work speaking to Vera is a great way of de-stressing and I find that after 30 minutes on the phone to her I’m ready to get back to work with newfound energy.

What do you talk about with your phone buddy? 

Everything! Unsurprisingly we always have a catch up about what’s going on in the world at the moment, but also I’ve learned about her family, how she met her husband, what she did when she worked, etc. What’s nice is that she’s just as interested in my life too, so it really is a two-way conversation. We also share a love for gameshows!

Why do you think this service is necessary in the current climate?

Lockdown has impacted us all, and whilst the majority of us can go for a walk or head to the supermarkets to break up our day, for people like Vera that’s just not possible. By speaking to someone outside of your usual circle I think it breaks up the routine and hopefully makes things a bit more interesting.

What is your advice to people who might be isolated by themselves during the lockdown?

If you’re feeling isolated I recommend speaking to those that you do have contact with and booking in conversations either on video apps or on the phone to make your day a bit more structured. Or even doing something like the Octavia befriending service as although it’s to help others feel less lonely, as a by-product, you also then find someone who you look forward to speaking to.

Robert Murray, Divisional Manager, Oyster Partnership

Oyster Partnership lending an ear to Octavia Foundation

How did you get involved in the Octavia befriending service? 

Jas and I took part in their Learn To Earn programme last year where we delivered employment workshops to some of their vulnerable residents, so I thought it would be nice to continue.

Why did you decide to do this?

I really enjoyed the work we did last year so I thought it would be great to keep it going. Also, the thought of the elderly being alone and having no one to talk to breaks my heart so I wanted to help where I could.

What was the process like from signing up to the first conversation? 

Pretty straight forward. We did some training on what we can and can’t say or do, looked at boundaries, filled out some paperwork, and had references and DBS checks done. 

Do you have the same person you call every time or do the people change?

I call the same person every time, Anne. She is amazing!

How has it been going so far?

It’s been 2 months so far and it has been a lot of fun. We get on really well and I look forward to catching up with Anne every week. 

What do you talk about with your phone buddy? 

We are both Irish so naturally we have a lot in common. We also both love the theatre and love to travel. Her husband used to work for an airline so she is well-traveled which makes for great conversation. We talk a lot about family too. She has very fixed views on certain issues so it’s quite fun to challenge her on these and make her laugh.

Why do you think this service is necessary in the current climate? 

I just always think, what if that were my granny or grandad? I would love for someone to be comforting them if they were alone. I think it’s so important to bring laughter and joy to people in a time like this. This is supposed to be a face to face role but because of the current climate, it has to be an over the phone relationship. I’m looking forward to when I can go and visit her with a bottle of her favourite white wine. 

What is your advice to people who might be isolated by themselves during the lockdown?

Pick up the phone and chat with someone. If you have close family and friends, build stronger relationships with them. Perhaps reignite an old friendship or volunteer with a local charity.


If you would like to get involved with this great cause, you can find out more about Octavia Foundation and their befriending service here.

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