Rita is 89 and has been part of Lambourn’s racing community for most of her life, with her late husband having rides as a jockey and later selling horseboxes before sadly passing away. Over the years Rita has enjoyed attending Racing Welfare’s community events and outings, however, when Covid-19 resulted in a national lockdown during 2020 Rita began receiving regular phonecalls through the charity’s Check-In and Chat service.
Since initially being signed up to the service Rita has struggled with her health. She contracted coronavirus and became seriously ill, which resulted in her being housebound for a prolonged period once she’d eventually been discharged from hospital.
Rita had plenty of visitors when she was unwell however, as her health began to improve, the visits became fewer and farther apart. She reflects: “When you’re feeling better and you’d like someone [to visit], of course, they don’t come!”
However, one source of contact that has remained constant during that time is her weekly Check-In and Chat call, and every Wednesday Rita looks forward to a call from Racing Welfare volunteer, Lesley.
Rita said: “She’s been very kind and rings every week to see how I’m getting on… I tell her everything, where I’ve been and what I’ve done!”
Rita no longer has family close by, with her husband and youngest son passing away several years ago and her eldest son living 60 miles away. As her health has improved she has gradually been able to get out of the house, but admits that if she isn’t feeling up to going out then it is likely she won’t see another person that day, and that can be difficult for someone who formerly enjoyed a very busy social life. She said: “No-one comes much now. When my husband was alive we always had parties, 40 people or so at a time. I got so used to having [people around] and then you don’t get anybody.”
When asked if she feels lonely, Rita said: “Well you do, don’t you?… If I don’t go out, I won’t see anybody.”
As is often the case, a close bond has now formed between Rita and her befriender. Lesley explains how their relationship has developed over time: “When I first started speaking to Rita I think she was a bit like… ‘why are you calling me?’ But gradually, gradually… I’d say now that she’s my friend. Rita’s wonderful… she makes me laugh and is great fun.”
Lesley has been involved in racing for most of her life, riding out for several trainers over the years, including the legendary Toby Balding. Following the passing of a close friend, who’d received support from Racing Welfare during a long period of ill-health, Lesley decided to sign up as a volunteer with Racing Welfare’s Check-In and Chat service in his memory. Lesley said: “I’d wanted to do volunteering for a long time. Racing Welfare had really helped him and been very good to him, and it just suddenly came to me – ‘I can do this for John.’