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Celebrating Our Volunteers – Audrey

As part of National Volunteers’ Week, 1-7 June 2020, we are celebrating our amazing volunteers and saying a huge thank you to them for the invaluable contributions that they make to Newcastle Cathedral.

Audrey’s Story

Here we shine a spotlight on Audrey, a Hospitality Volunteer at the Cathedral, as she shares a little about herself…

Describe your best weekend

It’s difficult to pick out a single weekend that stands out in my memory. All weekends were special when spent with my family. The weekend that happens around 18 October is quite special to us. We were married on October 18. Our first child was born 11 months later so I requested that he be baptised on our first Wedding Anniversary… then both sons were confirmed on 10 October so after confirmation their first communion was on 17 October.

Tell us about a memorable holiday / event

Holidays are special and each has its own special place in our memory. How do I pick out a single event? As usual, I’m wandering off on a tangent. I can tell you about a holiday which changed the course of my life. It could have ended in tragedy but turned out to be the beginning of a firm lifelong friendship between two families.

It was 1958. We weren’t well off and we saved so hard for our first holiday in France. My parents dropped me off at the home of my penfriend of four years then, in order to allow me some independence, went camping.

Wham! Bang! Bash!

I was in the front seat passenger of the French family car when we hit a bus head on. I’ll spare the details except to say that my two week holiday extended to five weeks, four as a resident in a local hospital.

During my hospital stay I took an excursion to St Peter but he wouldn’t let me in. Said that he had received instructions from his superior to send me back down.

My former ‘penfriend’, together with her extended family are now firm friends with me and my family. (62 years later).

The only negative side to the event which left me without the use of my left hand is that I’ll now never be able to do a handstand – but so far I’ve never wanted to do that! As the saying goes ‘All’s well that ends well!’

Post-COVID-19, if you could be whisked away to anywhere for 2 dream days where would you go?

I dream. I’m the female equivalent of Peter Pan. I can fly and I believe in fairies. I love my life; I like to spend my time wherever I happen to be. I’m retired and I have a choice.

If I was to be whisked away to a dream destination for a couple of days I’d choose heaven on earth, a place of contentment, peace and tranquillity i.e. the Ring of Kerry in Southwest Ireland.

Killarney National Park is magical. There are waterfalls, lakes, forests and castles. It’s my Never Never Land.

Kenmare is rich in history. It’s beautiful, nestled in mountains by the Atlantic.

If possible I would choose to have my dream days in August when I could plan my trip around a mountain goat (Puck Fair). I would visit the town of Killorglin where for one weekend they carefully select a mountain goat, crown him King of Ireland and spend three days worshipping him with song, dance and drink.

This is of course a dream… the way I view the Ring of Kerry. My son who lives and works in Dublin suggests I see Ireland as a giant Theme Park. Maybe I do because we all know that this type of heaven on earth doesn’t exist (and on our drive I did irritate everybody by singing What’s the story in Balamory every time we saw even more pastel painted cottages) but I don’t have to grow up and nobody can make me!

This is the place where my adult aesthetic appreciation of nature’s beauty merges with the child I’ll always be.

Have you tried any new foods or perfected any recipes during lockdown?

Please define ‘Recipe.’ I understand they’re invented in a place called Kitchens.

I’ve been making a new kind of soup but I can’t give you the recipe because it turns out differently every time. It’s called Bitter Soup because you use a bitter anything you can find at the back of the freezer.

Can't cook.jpg

Have you got any new hobbies you’ve picked up during lockdown?

Never even considered it. No time, and can’t get to shops anyway to purchase materials. I did try a treasure hunt in the garage in readiness for VE Day and found a 1948 Ration Book. That was a fun afternoon.

What’s the first thing you’ll do when COVID-19 is over?

Post-lockdown I will re-assess my lifestyle. I’ve always zoomed into everything head on and filled every second with an activity. For some reason I felt guilty if I wasn’t doing something I felt to be useful. I didn’t often sit down.

During these past few weeks I’ve been obliged to take some time out. I have had to shed the guilt that didn’t need to be there. After the lockdown I will make a conscious effort to take some time to just be me.

I live on a modern housing estate so my walks… not taken daily, lazy me… only take me around the houses carrying a mobile phone. When I‘m approaching the house of a friend I phone ahead to suggest a chat from across the street. Last week whilst chatting to one friend we both noticed that my ankles weren’t swollen. Following a serious kidney problem the left one particularly has always been swollen. Can it be that putting my feet up, advice I tended to ignore, has been the mitigating factor?

I will also send up a hymn of praise for my good fortune. Friends and family have been so supportive. I don’t take kindly to isolation but I can honestly say that I haven’t felt isolated. Instead of feeling guilty I will indulge in being me. Watch out world.

How long have you volunteered at the Cathedral / what is your role / what made you choose to volunteer with us?

Alleluia, Coca Cola, Amen

The three words in the title have one thing in common —i.e. they are globally understood! Words are a method of communication… but they are only words and only a secondary means of interaction.

Love, friendship and laughter are the primary and seldom misinterpreted method of communication. They are a communicative tool which can offer a virtual hug or help dry the tears of the lonely and grieving.

My background is linguistics. I love words and their meanings. I love trying to communicate. Prior to my marriage I travelled a lot. Social geography is fascinating. This was the early 1970s before worldwide travel became the norm. I was quite adventurous. My first attempt at using the Tokyo underground was a bit scary because I didn’t know which of the many signs indicated the way out of the station but once I learnt that “Exit “in Japanese is written as a toasting fork followed by a square it was okay.

My husband passed away suddenly in 2009. My world fell apart. We had attended church together every week and even that became difficult for me. I couldn’t do it. My tears flowed freely and although people were kind I felt uncomfortable. For the first time in my life I was unable to communicate. People tried and I couldn’t respond. Friends called and somehow, inexplicably my loneliness increased.

I began to call into the Cathedral to light a candle and sit quietly. I cannot say that I was talking to God because I was angry and upset with everything and everybody. I tried to deny His existence, but He wouldn’t go away. He was right there waiting for me to turn back and accept His love and support. There in the silence His voice came through. It didn’t happen quickly but He was patient.

I owe a lot to the Cathedral. Now I want to be part of the love which resonates throughout the building. I have regained my ability to communicate.

I have been a volunteer for just over a year and my role is a simple one. I offer refreshments to visitors at the hospitality table and I love it. I love it when a street dweller comes in as I’m setting up to ask: “Is the coffee ready yet?” I really look forward to a chinwag with the regulars – those who attend the weekday communion or those who come in to keep warm. I love the tourists who are always ready to chat, I love the warmth extended by other volunteers and the banter of the Cathedral staff.

On one memorable occasion a German couple came in. The gentleman stopped by the table as his wife strolled around. He didn’t speak any English and my German O level from the 1960s helped to start a hilarious conversation. As we struggled through our laughter a lady approached and offered to help. She told me that she was Dutch but could speak German. She introduced her French husband. Wow. I do speak French so the conversation took off. Four nationalities! An Iranian gentleman who’d been listening joined in. Great!

I end as I began. Alleluia, Coca Cola, Amen.

How would others at the Cathedral describe you?

To get the answer to this question you’ll need to ask ‘the others’. I can only be myself. If I please some there’s a fair chance that I’ll annoy others. C’est la vie. Just keep smiling and taking the happy pills.

Come inside and join me!

Why Volunteer?

Volunteering is a fulfilling way to give back to the community and, as well as helping others, volunteering has been shown to improve volunteers’ wellbeing and makes you feel great in return too!

It’s human nature to feel good after helping someone out. Volunteering can also help you gain valuable new skills and experiences, and boost your confidence.

If you have been inspired and are interested in becoming a volunteer at Newcastle Cathedral, please get in touch with our Project Manager, Lindy Gilliland, by email to find out how to get started.

Want to read more volunteering stories to inspire you? Click here.