Did you know that there was an International Friendship day, dedicated to the bond of friendship and companionship and celebrated on the first Sunday of August every year? No, I didn’t either. But it made me think if friendship is valued so highly that there is a day celebrating it what do you do if your friends are no longer there? If you are separated: by geography or illness or even death?
Loneliness and social isolation are common problems amongst the elderly and this can have a profound effect on many aspects of people’s health and well-being. According to Age UK, over half of those over 75 live alone. Many older people say that the television is their main source of company and around 1 million older people may not speak to anyone for a whole month.
But not everyone is left to fend for themselves, the Otley Action for Older People (OAOP) Befriending Scheme is tackling the problem head on and Nikki Sloper, OAOP Healthy Together Project Health Impact Worker can’t wait to tell us all about it.
What is befriending and how can Otley Action for Older People help?
Nikki: “Our volunteers here at Otley Action for Older People (OAOP) provide valuable support to older people in their local community by regularly visiting them in their home. We have been providing befriending support for a number of years, but in recent months the service has grown and continues to grow.
We now have more than 20 volunteer befrienders who have been successfully matched with an older person but volunteers are always needed and welcomed so we can try to meet the growing demand.
People who may benefit from a befriender can be referred to us by their GP, social services, other health professionals or their friends and family.”
Sarah McNab, OAOP Social Inclusion Worker adds”We assess each person carefully to understand their needs and preferences and then arrange the best match with one of our volunteer befrienders. It is really important that both the service user and the volunteer are happy with the arrangement and once the initial match is made the practical details are settled between them via our office.”
Nikki continues “Befriending can take many forms and each and every relationship is different, depending on the needs of the service user and the volunteer’s availability. Examples may include, help with shopping, regular visits for a chat and a cuppa, transport to hospital appointments and general support for a short time following a hospital stay.
There are many benefits of befriending for both service users and volunteers. Here are some of their stories:
Phillip and Bob
Phil says: “I first met Bob around 2 years ago when I was introduced to him by OAOP.
I had become aware of the need in our community to provide companionship to the elderly. They were experiencing periods of loneliness brought about by isolation from any social contact. I was introduced to Bob by a member of OAOP staff who spent around 20mins at that first meeting ensuring that Bob and I were suitable companions and then left us to have a chat. I soon found out that Bob had had a very interesting life and that we had many subjects to discuss. Firstly he was involved in the maintenance of Lancaster Bombers in the Second World War and, when I was in full time employment, I worked for a manufacturer of aircraft engine parts. We also share a love of cricket and Bob used to play in a local team and has shown me many photographs of his team in his playing days. His dry sense of humour and fun makes him a pleasure to be with and I look forward to the hour or so that I spend with him every week. The range of subjects we cover seems endless and considering he is in his 90’s he still retains an interest in many subjects.
I consider my time with Bob well spent and regard my visits as one of the most interesting and rewarding parts of my life.”
Fiona and Kay
Kay says “Fiona and I hit it off from the very start. It’s become a five star relationship. We very much enjoy our time together. We particularly enjoy having a chat and also people watching!! I feel that I can rely on her and really look forward to her visits.
Kay and I enjoy a trip out too- we regularly go for a coffee in Ilkley or Otley and put the world to rights!! We have more trips planned for the summer too. Kay has become a very firm friend over the last year.”
“Our experience of befriending” A story from Bee and Dee.
Bee approached OAOP wanting to be a volunteer befriender. OAOP asked me and initially I thought ‘No’, I was hesitant about a 17 year old coming here, I’m not used to young people and wondered what we might have to talk about.
However, after being introduced by a member of OAOP staff we hit it off and Bee started to visit me on a weekly basis. Talking hasn’t been a problem and in fact I can’t believe how quickly two hours goes by!
Bee gives me a young person’s outlook on life. I certainly had never heard of trampoline parks, foam pits and parkour but now I know all about them!
Sometimes we start a conversation and go off on a tangent but it’s amazing the diversity of subjects that we cover. Religion and politics are usually off limits but resurface every so often. Luckily neither of us hold extremist views and the difference in age means we have a lot to teach each other.
Bee is very intelligent and is awaiting her A level results with a view to becoming an aeronautical engineer. She is very enthusiastic which is infectious and I await the outcome for her very hopefully.
Janet and Ann
My name is Janet and I have been a volunteer with Otley Action for Older People for about 8 months.
I joined up because for the first time in many years I found myself with some free time and wanted to put it to good use. The charity is well known in Otley for the good work that it does for the older community and also for the friendliness of its volunteers so it seemed like the obvious place to go.
The initial interview with manager Sue was nice and informal, more of a chat about the range of activities that volunteers do for the charity and how I might be able to help. OAOP has a befriending scheme and right away this appealed to me as a chance to get closer to an individual and really be able to feel that I was making a difference. After all the paperwork was sorted out Ann and I were introduced. I pop in to see Ann nearly every week and we both look forward to the visit. We catch up on each other’s news and swap stories from our past, and have grown to be firm friends.
OAOP supports a number of regular activities such as lunch clubs and bingo and I have helped out with some of these from time to time. The other volunteers that I’ve met are friendly and open to sharing their experiences. A number of them are befrienders like me and it is clear that each relationship is individual, shaped by the situation and preferences of both the older person and the volunteer. One thing we all seem to have in common though is that we think it is very worthwhile and find the experience enriching.
So for anyone who may be thinking about it I would definitely recommend it!
If you would like to volunteer or would like to know more about the befriending service please call 01943 463965, or email firstname.lastname@example.org