Today we celebrate World Friendship Day. This special day reminds us of the importance of friendship and building social connections with other people. Friendships and social support are very important as many people in the UK suffer from loneliness and social isolation.
Even though we have many ways to communicate these days, the problem of social isolation has not decreased. It is one of the biggest problems to deal with and relates to both patients and carers. Social isolation can lead to many other conditions such as depression or anxiety.
The growing problem of social isolation emphasizes the role and impact of befrienders. Befriending makes a valuable contribution to people's lives. It gives people a chance to develop new relationships. Befrienders provide emotional support, social skills and confidence that will help patients and carers feel happier in their everyday life.
Who are befrienders?
Befriending is one of the many services provided by ellenor. Befrienders are volunteers who provide support and companionship, their role is to reduce social isolation. They visit patients and carers in their own homes but also visit Nursing and Residential homes. Their role is varied; they offer company to either a patient or a carer. However, unlike a professional care specialist, a befriender does not provide physical care.
A befriender is a companion who is safe to talk to outside the family, somebody you could share your secrets with. A befriender will happily go with you to have a cup of coffee in your favourite garden centre, help you with your shopping or accompany you to your appointments. It is somebody who will enable you to do the things you love doing, with support.
What are the benefits of being a befriender?
Befriending is an incredibly rewarding role. It provides people with company and adds a real social aspect to their lives. It gives satisfaction from having a positive impact on someone else’s life. It allows making new connections. It is also a great opportunity to learn so much from patients or carers who need the company of a befriender.
One of our befrienders, Edna, shared her experience with one of our patients:
“It has been a privilege to have visited my befriendee for the last two and a half years. A very independent gentleman in his mid-nineties, his sense of humour made light of his growing frailty.”
Edna and her befriendee talked of many things: “his long happy marriage, and of his pride in his daughters, grand and great grandchildren.”
She also learned a lot through their conversations about him being an RAF pilot, his interest in astronomy and his love of birds.
Edna admits her befriendee was always courteous, caring and always brightened up her day, asking her how she was.
The importance of having a befriender.
The company of a befriender can help patients and carers in many ways. Befrienders do not just provide companionship; they are there to give moral support. Spending time with a befriender can help reduce stress or recover from grief or illness. They can also help others continue their hobbies or even find a new one. They can help patients improve their confidence to re-engage with the community or help them improve their physical activity by encouraging them to go for a walk.
Reece, one of our patients, has been meeting with our befriender, Matt, for about a year now. His mother, Della, encourages everyone who feels isolated to try the befrienders service: “He has never made Reece feel like there is anything wrong with him, they connected straight away.”
Reece’s mum asked Matt about his reasons for becoming a befriender and was amazed to hear that he simply wanted to give something back.
Della thinks the toughest part of disability is feeling isolated. Having a befriender can make a real difference:
“When you have someone come and converse about topics that are of your interest and your company enjoys those subjects it's rewarding and mentally stimulating. Ihave to be honest, I was quietly anxious when Reece was first approached with the idea of a befriender.We really weren’t sure what to expect but the minute he walked in we just knew we were worried about nothing.Matt's visits have benefited me too. I can leave the boys to hang out while they’re watching sports or chatting. That time allows me to go off and do things with the peace of mind that he is safe and in good company".
If you would like to know more about our befriending service then please visit: https://ellenor.org/wellbeing-services
 An Investigation Into Triggers For Loneliness In The UK. 2016. British Red Cross.