Charity thanked for bringing joy and 'chat' to the lonely
Several weeks ago an envelope arrived with "Important" written in red ink on the front. Inside, typed on Gorsedh Kernow letterhead in a characteristic uncial font, was a letter marked "Absolutely Strictly Confidential". The letter read that the Gorsedh Council had awarded me the London Cornish Shield for outstanding service to Cornwall and Cornish people.
To say I was amazed would be an understatement. In fact, I was too emotional and overwhelmed to read the letter properly and rang the awards secretary to ask if they had the right person. Yes, it was for me, but she couldn't say who had proposed me, or for what, although I had a suspicion, which wasn't confirmed until the awards were officially announced prior to the Gorsedh ceremony in Camelford earlier this month.
The Gorsedd of Cornwall, or to give it its Cornish language title, Gorsedh Kernow, is an organisation dedicated to the preservation of Cornwall's unique Celtic spirit and sense of identity through literature, language, music and the arts, and the recognition of all forms of important service to Cornwall and its people.
The award was given to me because of decades working with Cornwall Tapes For The Housebound. I've been involved with a number of high profile charities over the years, but this small organisation, dedicated uniquely to people living in Cornwall, is very close to my heart. It's the first charity that I worked with and has been part of my life for 36 years. It couldn't have been better timed as the charity is approaching its 40th anniversary in 2013.
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Cornwall Tapes For The Housebound has such an anachronistic title in a world that has fast-forwarded from cassette tapes to CDs and MP3s. What hasn't changed is the ethos of providing the most simple kind of communication – talking! With kind, caring words, our "chatters" speak to people who have become lost and invisible in the hustle and bustle of daily life because they mostly live alone and are isolated through age and disability.
The charity began in 1973 with an inspirational idea by Marjorie Gilbert. She had recorded tapes for her nephew, immobile with a broken leg and liked to hear stories read by his auntie. Marjorie moved the concept on when she heard of a group in East Cornwall who recorded and duplicated books which were circulated on the principle of a rotating tape library and sent to people unable to get out and about. She amalgamated the idea of sending tapes to housebound folk, but without being duplicated. Each recording would be a personal message to a specific listener, taking into account their personal interests and resulting in the birth of the "chat" tape. These are C30 cassette tapes, unscripted and recorded in chatters' own homes and sent to listeners on a one-to-one basis.
My initial involvement was incidental because John, my husband, had a recording studio back in 1976 and Marjorie called him with a technical question. She used the Yorkshire saying, "horses for courses", and when we met, she could see "soft touch" written all over me. Thirty-plus years later, I'm still here because the need hasn't changed.
We live in a beautiful but remote part of the world and for those who are fit, active and healthy there is no better place to be, but when confronted by illness, age and disability it's a different story: bleak, lonely, endless days and nights. The sound of a friendly voice, even if recorded, can be the only human contact for days on end. The tapes are sent regularly by post and, unlike other organisations, we do not target people with a specific disability or in any age group and anyone who lives alone and is housebound comes within our scope.
Accepting the award from the Gorsedh Council was a honour personally. More importantly, it was recognition of the work of Cornwall Tapes For The Housebound and the commitment and dedication of the chatters. Speaking into a microphone to a stranger takes a special kind of person and we have a couple of chatters who have recorded more than a thousand tapes. Imagine talking for 500 hours to people you've never met. The volunteers are the backbone and vital resource of the charity because the number of people we are able to "talk" to is entirely dependent on them.
The first patron to Cornwall Tapes For The Housebound was novelist Daphne du Maurier. She was so impressed with the aims of the charity that she gave permission for us to record all her works. Could it be that she felt an empathy with our listeners? In the foreword to her book, Enchanted Cornwall, she wrote: "I am thought of as a recluse, which suggests someone who is very lonely, but there is a difference between being lonely and being solitary."
Not everyone has that choice.
For further information about the work of Cornwall Tapes For The Housebound, call 01326-280532.