Updated: May 20, 2020
Another one of my volunteer roles throughout the pandemic is as a shopper assistant for one of my neighbours through AgeUK.
Every week, AgeUK are being referred new local people who need help, be it with shopping or just a check-in phone call. I volunteered for the shopper role as I have a fair bit of free time and there are plenty of people in my postcode who need help. I also have a shopping trolley. I LOVE my shopping trolley and have had one since I was in my early 20s. My partner thinks they look naff, but I find them incredibly convenient and couldn't care less how uncool I look with it.
The set-up process went as follows:
Phone call from one of the AgeUK representatives
Follow-up email asking me to send over all the stuff he needed to conduct a DBS check
Phone interview the next day
Online training via Zoom
AgeUK matched me with a client*
*Sounds a bit formal, so I'd rather refer to the 'client' as my new friend, Lady S.
So, how was it?
What I didn't expect was how difficult shopping for someone else would be - especially someone you don't know.
Why? For starters, people can be very particular about shopping from the supermarket they usually visit to certain brands they buy to time of day they normally go. Also, when you're shopping for yourself, you tend to zip round the supermarket picking up things that you know you like or need and can go off-list (off-piste, off-liste). When you're shopping for someone else, however, they might need things that you have never bought before so you'll need to have a bit of a wander around to try and find them.
You also have to consider that the reason people need this service is because they are unable to get their own shopping. Lady S thankfully isn't shielding, but she has disabilities that prevent her from being able to do her own shopping which must be incredibly frustrating for her. Thankfully, we have charities like AgeUK who can help, and it's up to volunteers to help soak up some of that frustration to help make already difficult times slightly easier.
I popped round to meet Lady S to say hello and get the list - she only lives around the corner, so it's actually very convenient and she seems really nice and friendly. Our local supermarket is a Lidl, so I trundled along with my just-bleached shopping trolley and queued up to get into the shop as it was quite busy (reminder to self: don't go along at 11.30am). While I was waiting in the queue, I took the list out and started reading it...
Whiskas cat biscuits (duck or turkey)
Asda own vegetarian mince
Asda own apple and cherry hi-juice (only that flavour)
And so on...
Then my stomach dropped... oh god, she goes to Asda! Now, as we're in difficult times, AgeUK has explained that we might not always be able to get exactly what they want, but this seemed really specific so I got what I could from the list and then gave Lady S a call to see how we might compromise on any items that weren't there. Luckily, Lady S is quite happy to chat, and as we're getting to know one another and I'm spending her money in a shop, it's really important that I get it right. Also, I set myself quite high standards and, while I know it won't be the end of the world if I get something wrong, I would be mortified if my mistake cost her money.
As it happens, Lady S lives with someone who has obsessive compulsive disorder which means that basically, Quorn mince won't cut the mustard as it has to be Asda-own. Luckily, I am able to understand the situation more than some might, as I'm the mother of a child with autism who basically eats mostly beige food, and has preferences for certain brands. I realised that if I were to buy something that wasn't right, it would either go to waste or Lady S would be stuck with it.
All went well and I was able to get the majority of items on the list, but next time I will be taking a slightly longer trek and going out to Asda to get the things I couldn't find in Lidl. From leaving my house to coming home, the whole process took about 90 minutes but I imagine that over time it'll become quicker and I'll get used to what she likes so it'll become more instinctive.
Become a shopper if:
You have the time to do it - this one will eat into your spare time to begin with
You have the means to do it - I don't drive, but I fully recommend a good trolley bag
You like meeting people and want to help your neighbours. It's best to keep it local as you don't want to go too far out of your way
How to get involved:
If you would like to volunteer with AgeUK, either Google your local AgeUK organisation, which is usually the name of your town or borough (e.g. AgeUK Merton) or click HERE to go to the national website.