I'm standing on older neighbour Becky's doorstep, feeling a bit miserable. It's a classically English summer's day outside, which means that it's overcast, drizzly and grey, and I'm feeling tired after a week at work.
But as soon she opens the door, Becky greets me with a broad, sunny smile. It's the kind of smile that you can't help smiling back at, and I forget my bad mood in an instant.
"Come in! Come out of the rain!", Becky ushers me into her living room, where the 'Becky smile' is reflected at me in scores of photos.
(Above, Becky when she was younger, below, Becky's children)
Becky's family are truly international, and as she points out different people in the photos, I try and keep a tally in my head of where everyone lives: America, Jordan, Australia, Ghana and Canada to name a few. "Everybody has followed their fortune," she tells me.
The eldest of eight children, Becky was born in Jerusalem. "I keep telling everyone, I am holy!" she laughs as she sits down. I ask her what it was like growing up in Jerusalem. "My parents were always helping other people. I learnt from my mother to look after my neighbours. That's how we were brought up, to look after each other."
"So I decided as I grew up, 'Well I'm going to go into nursing! That will help others." She decided that she wanted to study nursing in England, "But my Father didn't like it; he said 'why do you have to go abroad! I said 'because I want to learn!'"
Undeterred, her mother took Becky to see the local Bishop near them in Jerusalem, who was English himself. "She's choosing the right thing!" the Bishop said, and he paid for my ticket to England!" Becky tells me.
(Above: Becky - in the white dress - with her parents and sister.)
So, in 1951 Becky arrived in London, a city that was building itself back up after the war. She didn't know anyone, but had a letter of introduction, written by the Bishop, to a "very old lady living in South Kensington... she would take me out for dinner" As Becky reflects on that time she tells me, "It was lovely. It was really lovely, my past."
While studying in London, Becky met her husband. How did she meet him? "In the hospital, of course, because he was a surgeon!" They would go on to have three children, a boy and a set of twins. She would balance being a mum with working nights at a local hospital. "Whatever I did, throughout my life, I was happy to do it, and it was a success. It's down to the willpower that you have. I always say to everybody if there is a will, there is a way. So just get on with it!" What a motto to live by!
(Below: Left to right: Newly qualified nurse Becky, and Becky with her husband (on the left))
With her family living so far away, now Becky lives alone with her lovely (slightly grumpy) cat, SuSu. "She was a gift from my grandchildren, but she is an old lady now." Reflecting on her life, Becky tells me how hard it is, as you get older, to lose loved ones around you. The day before my visit, Becky attended the funeral of a dear friend, which was a poignant moment for her."I keep saying, all that the friends that I had have gone."
That's why Becky loves coming to South London Cares Social Clubs, to meet her neighbours and make new friends. Volunteers reading this who have met her at one of our clubs will undoubtedly attest to Becky's talent for lighting up the room with her warm, sunny character.
(Below: Becky holding court at a Technology Workshop)
Spending the afternoon with Becky, I'm reminded why one of our objectives at South London Cares is to improve the connection, confidence, skills, resilience and power of all participants who are part of our network. It is not just our older neighbours who are helped by spending time with volunteers. Indeed, when I step back out into the rain, I feel ten times lighter than I did when I arrived. I leave with the Becky smile dancing on my face.
Posted by Johanna Brooks on Thursday 15th August 2019
Johanna is the Development Coordinator at South London Cares. She heads up our fundraising programme, cheering on our donors, challenge fundraisers and all those that help to make our activities possible.