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A Friend in Need: Join our campaign to improve the lives of vulnerable people in Norwich

PUBLISHED: 16:25 05 June 2012 | UPDATED: 16:53 05 June 2012

Leonard Haigh, 91, who has restricted mobility and uses a wheelchair, with his volunteer befrienders Warren and Paul, who come to spend time with him every week. Photo by Simon Finlay

Leonard Haigh, 91, who has restricted mobility and uses a wheelchair, with his volunteer befrienders Warren and Paul, who come to spend time with him every week. Photo by Simon Finlay

Archant Norfolk Copyright

A call goes out today to Norwich people to help improve the lives of vulnerable people in our community.

The tragedy of Bob’s lonely death

The tragic consequences of people slipping out of touch with the outside world were highlighted on our front page earlier this year with the death of Robert Reynolds.

The 63-year-old, known as Bob, was found dead at his flat in Lakenham in January of this year but may have been dead for several months before that.

A man who kept himself to himself and had few visitors, Mr Reynolds was last seen in October 2011. It was when his ex-wife became concerned after failing to hear from him over Christmas that police forced their way into his Trafalgar Street home, finding post dating back months piled up behind the door.

At an inquest in Norwich in March, coroner William Armstrong said Mr Reynolds had been dead for so long that the cause of his death would never be known.

Andrew Morter, Voluntary Norfolk’s voluntary centre co-ordinator, said Mr Reynolds’ death made for “painful reading”.

“The voluntary sector and organisations like ours work hard to stop things like that happening but, tragically, they still do,” he said. “It’s painful to think that if people knew we were here, there might be some way we could have stopped it.

“Often people don’t want to ask for help, and they may have their reasons, but we want to at least make sure people are aware.

“They could be the people living next door to you.”

The Evening News is launching A Friend in Need, a campaign urging people to make a difference to those who lack a friendly contact with the outside world.

In partnership with Voluntary Norfolk, we want people to take a couple of hours a week to improve things for those whose lives are made difficult by isolation, disability or mental illness.

Voluntary Norfolk’s community befrienders scheme has already matched more than 600 adults with volunteers from their area – but many more are needed.

Vulnerable people aged from 18 to nearly 100 are looking for volunteers who will help them socialise, build their confidence or simply spend time with them.

It starts with giving up just two hours a week – and we know our readers can help.

To find out how Voluntary Norfolk’s befrienders are already making a difference in Norwich, follow the link at the top right of this story.

Befrienders are a lifeline to vulnerable people across the city, helping their clients become involved once more in everyday life, helping them to get out, socialise and have fun.

The need for that lifeline to the outside world – simply by having someone who is looking out for them – was tragically highlighted earlier this year by the death of Lakenham man Bob Reynolds.

Mr Reynolds was discovered at his Trafalagar Street home in January but had lost regular contact with his family and may have been dead for as long as three months before he was found.

Tim Williams, editor of the Evening News, said: “We have launched A Friend in Need with Voluntary Norfolk to make sure that people no longer need to live – and die – alone.

“Too many people reach a point in their lives where they feel they have no one to call upon – but help is available.

“We are calling on Evening News readers to give up just two hours of their time every week to improve the lives of people in their communities.

“That small commitment can make a huge impact and offer a vital lifeline to those who live every day with disability or loneliness.”

People are referred to Voluntary Norfolk in many ways – through health professionals or social workers, charities, or by approaching Voluntary Norfolk directly – and range from 18 years old to nearly 100.

For more than 30 years, the scheme has been working to make life better for people who might otherwise be left on society’s sidelines.

Volunteers usually arrange to spend a couple of hours a week with their clients, either to go out for the day, or help with household tasks or shopping.

William Mills, community volunteering co-ordinator at Voluntary Norfolk, said that volunteering is an enriching experience – as well as a lot of fun.

“Our volunteers are the cherry on the cake,” he said.

“They get to make a real difference to people’s lives simply by engaging with them – going for a walk, having a cup of coffee or just sitting and listening.

“Many of our clients are referred to us because of isolation or loneliness, and may be people who don’t get many visitors.

“Some are living with learning difficulties, physical disabilities or mental health issues, and may have carers several times a day – but not people who can take the time to sit and spend time with them.

“Our volunteers are that added bonus: they are that lifeline.”

Potential befrienders meet Voluntary Norfolk co-ordinators to discuss their interests, and are matched with a client. Regular training and support is available, but volunteers are not expected to deliver any care or incur any costs.

“Many of our volunteers sign up because they want to make a difference to their communities, meet new people or even boost their CV. They are of all ages, and all backgrounds,” said Mr Mills, right. “We are appealing to everyone who is interested in finding out more. Even if you are not sure how much time you have to spare, we can find the opportunities for you to make a difference.”

Volunteer befrienders can be from any background, and no experience is necessary.

All candidates are CRB checked and must provide two references.

Volunteers are interviewed about their interests and given induction training before being matched with a suitable client.

Relevant training sessions and regular reviews are conducted throughout duration of the match, which can last for up to 18 months.

Anyone under 18 looking to get involved can contact Voluntary Norfolk to find out about other volunteering opportunities.

To find out about becoming a community volunteer, call Voluntary Norfolk on 01603 614474, email admin@voluntarynorfolk.org.uk or visit www.voluntarynorfolk.org.uk

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