During Befriending Week 2020, we are all being invited to suggest our responses to the statement ‘Befriending is…….’
We all have a role to play
The aim of Linking Lives UK is to address social isolation and loneliness through befriending relationships. Our local partner projects are making a crucial impact in the lives of older people and their volunteers. At this time when those who were already impacted by loneliness are facing even greater restrictions, this becomes increasingly important. As we head into winter. many people now have less contact with friends and family, reduced mobility and concerns about health and wellbeing.
Each of us has an important role therefore in ensuring that no one is overlooked or forgotten, and that as many sources of support are identified. We would encourage everyone to be as aware as possible of those around us in our local neighbourhoods.
Some of my stories
For me, personally, I have been involved in befriending in some way or another for around 22 years. I have always found that when I have invested time in getting to know someone who may be experiencing loneliness, I have benefited from the experience. One of the first people I visited was ‘Phil’. He had been diagnosed with agoraphobia and used to have panic attacks if he was in an environment with lots of people. ‘Phil’ was, however, able to attend a weekly mobile community drop-in, run from a converted minibus.
He appreciated weekly home visits when we would play draughts. Over time, he slowly began to engage in occasional social activities at my church. Although challenging at first to be near lots of people indoors, he began to enjoy being involved and made other friends. This was great to see, and after a few years Phil became a regular member of the church. He started attending weekly services with around 200 people, and volunteered at various mid-week community groups!
Another gentleman who had a profound impact on my life was ‘Andrew’. He had lived in the same house as his parents for most of his life, and when I met him was in his 60’s. Andrew had been hoarding for many years, collecting old newspapers, bric-a-brac, mopeds and cars! The only place to sit was on a rickety wooden chair surrounded by newspapers! Both of his parents had died in soon after each other and this sent Andrew into a spiral of depression. When I started to visit him on a weekly basis in 2003, I noticed a 1988 calendar on the wall which was a sign of the point at which he began a spiral of increasing depression.
We would talk about the latest news and politics, religion (he declared himself as an atheist and so we had interesting discussions about my own faith and his perspectives). I sensed that these visits became a real lifeline for Andrew, as he had contact with just one other person who would bring him food on a regular basis. Our relationship also enabled me to gain an understanding into the life of some of the most hidden and excluded people in our communities, and to consider ways in which we can all make an impact.
I have been equally positively affected by others with whom I have engaged through befriending over the years. Many have amazing stories of experiences during the war, and challenges during their childhood which we seldom experience in modern society.
So what is befriending?
For me, the ideal situation would be that befriending organisations such as Linking Lives UK and others, would not be needed, as everyone in society was looking out for others around them. Sadly, this is often not the case, and so befriending is now a critical element of community life. In summary, my key thoughts about befriending are that it:
• Reaches those on the margins of society who may otherwise be forgotten
• Provides a mutually beneficial framework within which volunteers and older people can engage
• Brings people together with similar interests, hobbies and backgrounds and often enables people to learn new skills and interests together
• As a Christian charity, it enables churches to engage with older people in their community who may not be able to access centre-based activities
• Most of all, offers FRIENDSHIP in an informal and non-threatening environment
If you are not currently supporting someone in this way (either formally or informally) we would encourage you to find ways of doing this either through a local charity or by increasing your awareness of those around you especially in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Jeremy is the National Director of Linking Lives UK