For anyone visiting the restaurant in YMCA Surbiton in recent years, the lovely Jean Freeman would be a familiar face.
You will find her there most weekdays, and if she is not busy behind the counter or cleaning the tables, then most likely she is having a friendly chat with the customers.
“The YMCA would be a completely different place without Jean. She is the heart and the soul of the restaurant, and she is very good with staff and costumers”, says Yann Troalen, the French chef ruling the kitchen at YMCA Surbiton.
“I do like to chat!” Jean admits. “I am always the one who is told to go out inform the customers, if there’s a message”.
Enjoys getting to know the residents
Jean started volunteering at YMCA Surbiton three years ago, first as a part of the Chaplaincy team, then later in the restaurant.
She started out with one day a week. Now, she gets the bus from Chessington to Surbiton four to five days a week to serve customers, cook and clean tables.
“I much rather do this than sit at home”, she says.
Although she now helps out in the restaurant from 9am – 2pm most days, Thursdays are still devoted to helping Jacky Bone, the YMCA LSW Chaplain. Then, Jean makes the tea and sandwiches for the “Snack ’n’ chat” with the residents living in the YMCA hostel.
“I love chatting with the residents”, she says. “They all have different backgrounds and different stories to tell, it’s great getting to know so many interesting people”. There is even the occasional Thursday when Jacky can’t lead the “Snack’ n’ chat”, and it’s left to Jean to organise it herself.
However, Jean does a lot more for the residents than simply the weekly tea and sandwiches. When we meet, she has just been out to buy a kettle to one of them, because his was broken.
Mentors the new starters
With almost 40 years of experience working with catering, Jean is an invaluable asset to the catering team at YMCA Surbiton.
“When new people start, we always let them shadow Jean in the beginning”, her colleague Scott says.
“I do like to take on the role as a mentor for the new starters” says Jean.
To Jean, volunteering is an opportunity to keep on doing what she likes after she retired. It is also a way of giving back.
“I really like volunteering at the YMCA because there is a lot going on here, and the customers are of all ages and from all backgrounds. Also I wanted to give something back to the community”, she says.
“Also, the catering staff are like one big happy family, and we always have a laugh at work”.
Jean is “is a lovely volunteer” her colleagues say. And with her friendly and welcoming way of being, it’s no wonder Jean is on first-name terms with almost everyone visiting the YMCA Surbiton restaurant.
“If Jean was younger, she would have been one of these people with 3000 Facebook friends!” says Yann.