“There are many strengths in modern society, but one of its weaknesses is the breakdown of many of the old structures and networks that supported people in times of crisis and need. Whenever we lose a strengthening element in society, we need to replace it with alternative systems as quickly as possible. Befriending schemes are a crucial part of this process because they fill the gap that social erosion has left in the lives of so many vulnerable people.”
– Richard Holloway – former Bishop of Edinburgh
Befriending offers people supportive and reliable relationships through volunteering to help those who would otherwise be socially isolated.
Throughout the UK there are many projects that organise support for a wide range of people, from those with mental health issues or learning difficulties, to older people who suffer from a lack of social contact.
Befriending can often provide people with a new direction in their lives by opening up a wide range of activities, leading to increased self-esteem and self-confidence. It also reduces the burden of responsibility on other services which people may use inappropriately just so they can find someone to communicate with.
Every one of us needs to feel wanted and a part of society; we all need a sense of belonging. Being isolated can lead to depression, sadness, self-neglect and even suicide.
It’s a vicious cycle: the more isolated we become, the more anti-social we become.
Age UK offer an excellent service to those in need of friendship and social contact.
Their aim is to help:
- improve quality of life,
- improve well-being,
- improve independence,
- reduce isolation, and
- reduce loneliness.
They aim to support people to feel more in touch with society and give them an opportunity to share any concerns or worries they may have.
Their telephone befrienders work from their homes, giving you a friendly, private, one-to-one telephone call. They keep you informed of any local events, such as coffee mornings, luncheon clubs, debating societies and a whole range of activities available in the area.
Brian Castle, 71, who uses the befriending service had this to say:
“When my wife Ilene passed away four years ago, I felt that my life had passed away too. We weren’t able to have a family of our own, so we relied on each other for everything. We were really happy together, so we didn’t make or need many friends.”
“I was at a loss as to what to do, so I went to see my doctor for help. I felt very uncomfortable about it – I’m not the sort of bloke to ask for help on personal matters, but I had no one else to turn to.”
“She [the doctor] gave me a list of people I should contact and one of them was a befriending service. I can honestly say that just making that first phone call was a life-saver for me.”
“I spoke with a dear lady who understood my position exactly. Just being able to talk about how I felt meant so much to me.”
“That was last year, and I’ve now gone on to become a befriender myself. It’s really rewarding and enjoyable, and as a result I’ve made lots of new friends myself.”
Age UK offers two different types of befriending services:
In this type of service, this is where a volunteer visits an older person in their own home, perhaps for a cup of tea and a chat, or perhaps goes with them to an activity such as a trip to a local cafe or social gathering. Sometimes volunteers may go with the older person to a hospital or doctor’s appointment.
Here, a volunteer befriender will phone an older person at a pre-arranged time just for a chat and to check up on them.
Befriending provides an invaluable source of friendship to an older person and a link to the outside world.