Befriending Week – Befriending is support
1-7th November is Befriending Week: it’s a chance to celebrate befrienders and the huge difference they make to the people they support. Thousands of people in Hackney are lonely or isolated, especially after the pandemic. London can be incredibly lonely – and many of us don’t have the support networks we need. This can make life really difficult, and can make us unwell.
At VCH, we run a befriending service called Community Befrienders, which pairs volunteers with people of any age and background in Hackney who are lonely or isolated.
‘Demand for our service massively increased during the pandemic, and it has stayed high. Every single hour our volunteers give helps reduce isolation and loneliness in Hackney. You can notice the impact almost immediately.’ Bridget, Community Befrienders Programme Manager
What is befriending?
Befriending is support. It’s connecting with someone, making someone feel valued, supported and heard. Our Community Befrienders are volunteers who give around an hour every week, or every other week, to check in with someone who is vulnerable. They speak on the phone, online, or meet in person – and just connect. Some of our volunteers play pool with their befriendee, watch films, or listen to music.
What is like to be a Befriender?
Rudi is one of our Community Befrienders and has been volunteering for over a year. Here’s what she has to say about her experience:
‘I’ve gained a really great friend, someone that I now feel really close to and care about deeply. As humans, we just want to feel heard and supported. If all it takes to make someone feel marginally better about themselves is an hour a week, chatting, watching telly, or having a cup of tea, then I’m more than happy to partake. I really enjoy it and couldn’t recommend it more. It’s a great way to spend time with a person you may not have met otherwise.’
Another of our volunteers, Lauren, started befriending on the phone, and now sees Rose [not her real name] in her home most Mondays.
‘We share some food, stories, things that have happened in the week. Recently I brought round my portable speaker, and honestly, the atmosphere was electric. We created a little Glastonbury and were boogie-ing round the kitchen! It just made me realise that we all live such busy, hectic lives, and it doesn’t take that much to carve out a little slice of time. That little slice of time in my world can be hugely impactful for someone else.’
How does it work?
‘It’s a bit like being a matchmaker for friends.’ Bridget, Community Befrienders Programme Manager
Once someone has been referred to Community Befrienders, our team visits the person, gets to know them, and takes time to match them with a volunteer. We match people based on their first language, their interests, schedule, whether they want to do in-person or virtual befriending. Then our team is there every step of the way to check in on them both and provide any extra support we can.
What’s the impact?
The difference made is huge. Last year, our Community Befrienders service provided over 6,500 hours of free one-to-one support for vulnerable isolated residents. We also have some amazing people who came to us needing a befriender who have now gone on to support others.
We want to say a massive thank you to our volunteers – we couldn’t do this without you.
How can I get involved?
We receive referrals for people who need befrienders every week, and more and more people will need support over the winter. The more volunteers we train and pair up, the more people we can help.