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Befriending services help keep loneliness at bay this winter

todayNovember 27, 2020 2

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During the first lockdown and throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, everyone became aware just how important it is to make contact with others – and therefore, how vital the befriending services in North Yorkshire are.

A phone call can make a huge difference to someone’s day and the organisations who put together befriending services – and the volunteers – are as vital as ever as winter nights draw in and days become darker.

Part of the service Community Support Organisations offer in North Yorkshire is befriending, and for many it is as vital as a prescription delivery or shopping.

Simply knowing someone is there at the end of the phone, or due to call, a couple of times a week can make a world of difference.

Marie-Ann Jackson, Head of Stronger Communities, said: “Since April our community volunteers have made over 30,000 befriending calls to residents who are self-isolating both to check there are ok and also to have a friendly chat. We know that many of the volunteers who do this are themselves self-isolating and this is a great way that they can offer their support.”

Gary Fielding, Corporate Director of Strategic Resources, said: “The effort from all of the CSOs across North Yorkshire throughout the pandemic has been utterly tremendous.

“Their help in co-ordinating voluntary efforts to get to those who need it most has taken the county through the first lockdown and into the changing world as it adapted to Covid, and now into Lockdown 2.

“Especially as the days get shorter and darker and the weather colder, it’s important not to forget that conversation is a key thing to combat loneliness and isolation.

“That’s why the befriending services co-ordinated by the CSOs are more important than ever in keeping people safe, happy and healthy during the Coronavirus pandemic.”

We’ve spoken to CSOs across the county on the befriending services they offer and how they benefit people during lockdown.

Carers Resource

Bernie Brown from Carers Resource

Carers Resource in Ryedale has grown the befriending concept to involve book clubs, jigsaws over zoom and ‘doorstep adventures’, as well as regular calls for those who want them.

 

Claire Robinson, Development Manager of Scarborough & Ryedale Carers Resource, said:

“In March we converted all our face-to-face befriending to telephone befriending due to the pandemic – for obvious reasons it’s been a lifeline for so many people and proved so popular, both for volunteers and for those just needing to know there was a friendly voice at the end of the line.

“But as the weeks have gone by we have developed our thinking about befriending and introduced a number of new and creative ways to extend ‘social connectedness’ at a time when being ‘physically connected’ has not been possible.

“Alongside regular calls, we have also had a lot of activity via video calling – ‘zoom meet-ups’ have been more possible than we could have ever hoped.

“We’ve worked really hard to get people into a digital space, spending hours and hours laughing and crying to help our clients become more confident on line.  This has included buying kit, sorting connectivity and many sentences that start with ‘do you see the three dots…’.

“The magic and joy that happens when our clients finally get it all working is just incredible.”

Claire says through video calling, Carer’s Resource has been able to set up virtual book clubs, jigsaw clubs, painting sessions and Bake-Offs.

No one is left out – for any of the activities and new online clubs, all participants are sent whatever kit is needed to get involved – books, crafty bits, cake!

And the concept has been so successful that the clubs will remain even when life returns to normal.

Claire added: “We are developing new things all the time. When we drop books or puzzles off on doorsteps in a Covid-secure way, we make sure that the opportunity for a moment of social connectedness is never lost.

“But the other noticeable advantage to our on-line work is that it has never been more possible to be geographically flexible – from living room to living room it really doesn’t matter where you are sat – we have volunteers in Whitby chatting to someone in Barton-Le-Willows.

“Impossibly impractical pre-Covid, but now opening many virtual doors!

“If it’s raining or dark outside, people don’t have to worry about heading out to their book club.”

Age UK North Craven

The befriending service has been an important part of how Age UK North Craven has helped the community.

Julie Davies from Age UK North Craven

Along with befriending, Age UK North Craven also helped with advice on things like how to get blue badges.

 

Julie Davies at Age UK North Craven has been largely in charge of the befriending service efforts.

She said: “The befriending service was face to face before Covid; we then moved to phone befriending. The numbers grew rapidly during the first lockdown and we responded.

“The feedback from our clients is that they cannot see an end to this, it is especially hard for those who are isolating for whatever reason or due to poor mobility cannot get out and cannot have visitors.

“Phone befriending has given them an opportunity to share their worries and anxieties –  it gives people emotional support.

“It is so important that people do not feel forgotten or invisible.

“The befrienders are making a big difference which is hard to measure and we give them ongoing support.

“On an upbeat note there is some laughter and cheerfulness and wonderful stories that get back to us.”

Nidderdale Plus

Sandra Walker from Nidderdale Plus

Nidderdale Plus is one of the 23 CSO organisations across North Yorkshire.

There are 13 different volunteer networks under Nidderdale Plus and each one of them co-ordinates their own befriending effort.

Helen Flynn, Executive Director, said: “Usually, the befriending services are organised by the local churches and chapels and though they were in place before Covid, they have become more established since Covid.

“A lot of the people on the other end of the phone are local people too, which is an added bonus for those who are befriended because they can share news from the same area.

“It’s always been important to get befriending services in, but at the minute days are getting shorter, it’s colder.

“If you’re living on your own and it’s cold and dark, this can really compound feelings of social isolation.

“Having someone at the end of the phone to have contact with is so important, especially during this second lockdown.

“When I worked it out last time, it was in excess of 100 people using it.

“These are some of our most vulnerable people.

“Where people had help with shopping, dog walking before, a lot of those relationships have persisted beyond lockdown.  That’s also a form of befriending, just knowing there’s someone there you can call, that you can trust.”

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