A CARING employee at Darlington Building Society has told how volunteering to help tackle loneliness in the community has enriched her life.

Emma Robinson, who works as a People Talent Officer for Darlington Building Society, started volunteering as a befriender for Age UK North Yorkshire and Darlington in October.

Since then, Emma has developed a special bond with Carmen, a 70-year-old woman living alone in the Darlington area.

Emma, who is based at the Society’s head office in Darlington, calls Carmen once a week, and was able to meet her face to face – under social distancing rules – at Christmas.

“I love speaking to people, and it’s such a big part of my job with Darlington Building Society, so when the opportunity came up to volunteer with Age UK, I jumped at it,” says Emma.

“It really pulls at my heartstrings to think of people being on their own, and Age UK is a charity close to my heart because it has been a source of support for members of my family in the past.”Carmen was poorly with Covid-19 when Emma first started calling her, but she has now recovered, and their relationship has flourished.

“We talk about all sorts of things, and we’ve built up a lovely rapport. Every time I come off the phone after talking to Carmen, I have a warm feeling, like I’ve done something really worthwhile,” adds Emma.

Carmen’s house overlooks fields, and she likes to talk about birds so, when they met outside her home at Christmas, Emma gave her a bird book as a present.

“She is such a kind, polite lady and is always saying thank you – it just makes my day,” says Emma, who joined Darlington Building Society two and a half years ago.

As well as Emma, Carmen also has another Age UK befriender who calls regularly, and she also benefits from the charity’s Meals At Home service.

“It has all been such a wonderful experience – everyone has been so helpful,” she says.

Emma hopes to be able to increase her volunteering, and has offered to also help Age UK with meals deliveries, dog walking, and shopping collections.

Andrew Craddock, chief executive of Darlington Building Society, said: “Being part of the communities we serve is such an important part of our ethos, and it’s fantastic to see caring employees like Emma making such a difference to people’s lives.”

Helen Hunter, chief executive of Age UK North Yorkshire and Darlington, said: “We are so grateful to Darlington Building Society for this invaluable support in such a key area of our work, and we are delighted to hear that it’s been a positive experience.”

Every employee at Darlington Building Society is given two days paid volunteering time to support a charitable cause, and Emma was one of six members of staff who responded to a plea for help from Age UK as the impact of the lockdown grew.

During 2020 staff have also volunteered for NHS flu marshalling duties, litter picks, charity fun runs, serving foods at homeless shelters, and helping the Cash For Kids charity to provide Christmas presents for vulnerable children.