Age UK Norfolk befriending service makes 20,000 calls during pandemic

Picture: SuzanaMarinkovic/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Befriending Week is being marked by Age UK Norfolk. Its telephone service has made 20,000 calls during the pandemic and is being hailed as a lifeline to many - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Weekly calls during the pandemic have helped hundreds of people across Norfolk to remain connected with the outside world.

Shirley, from Hellesdon, was feeling "low and isolated" after losing her husband two-and-a-half years ago and began to feel worse during lockdown.

But regular conversations helped her and she said she clicked immediately with her volunteer, the calls breaking up her week and covering a large range of interesting topics.

"It makes me feel that there is someone who is interested in what I have to say," she said.

"It is such a caring service."

To mark Befriending Week which starts on Monday, November 1, Age UK Norfolk is highlighting the service and how much it can help.

Volunteer David Wakefield said: "Loneliness, particularly where older people are concerned, is a constant problem in today’s society.

Most Read

"Many songs have been written about it; but one song in particular produces a more positive note – James Taylor’s You’ve Got A Friend.

"This could well be the unofficial theme tune for Befriending Week."

The service offers people aged 50 and over companionship with a local volunteer or befriending co-ordinator.

They call weekly for a chat and also offer the opportunity to take part in a fun quiz.

The service is free to members, and Age UK Norfolk welcomes the support of volunteers and donations to help continue running the service.

Jen Field Age UK Norfolk

Jen Field, supporting and enabling manager at Age UK Norfolk. - Credit: Age UK Norfolk

Jen Field, supporting and enabling manager for Age UK Norfolk, said the befriending service was "more important than ever" during the pandemic,

Since March 2020 extra volunteers have been recruited reaching more older people and making over 20,000 befriending calls to members.

The service is considered a lifeline.

Anyone looking to volunteer needs the ability to relate to and empathise with older people, the ability to talk on a wide range of subjects, be reliable and flexible and be happy to work on their own.

Calls are made from home (call expenses are paid) and full training is given. To find out more about the befriending service, email or call 01603 785 223.

Shirley’s story

"I grew up in New Malden, in Surrey, but moved to Hellesdon about 40 years ago because of my husband’s job. I have been in the same house ever since. I have two sons, one who lives locally and one a couple of hundred miles away and I have four grandchildren, aged from five to 16 years.

"I was feeling very low and isolated after losing my husband two-and-a-half years ago. The pandemic made this much worse and I reached out to Age UK Norfolk’s telephone befriending service, and they were able to offer some support.

"The calls have definitely helped me, especially through the pandemic. They arranged for me to be paired up with a volunteer, who calls me once a week. This breaks up my week knowing that someone will call and I clicked with my volunteer straight away.

"I have been able to build up a lovely relationship with my volunteer. She is so reliable, and I really enjoy the time I chat to her on the telephone, we cover so many topics. It makes me feel that there is someone who is interested in what I have to say. It is such a caring service."

Volunteer befriender Michaela Rawnsley Age UK Norfolk befriending week

Volunteer befriender Michaela is enjoying her role with Age UK Norfolk which has made 20,000 calls to help ease loneliness and isolation since the start of the pandemic. - Credit: Age UK Norfolk

Michaela’s story

"I became a telephone befriender because, quite simply, I felt sorry for lonely, older people.

"I originally worked on the Age UK Norfolk advocacy service for five months before the first lockdown in March last year, and have been working as a telephone befriender since August 2020.

"I really enjoy the chats with my phone “buddies”. I feel they benefit by having a good long talk with someone that they don’t feel is obliged to listen – like a family member. This way they can be open and honest.

"I grew up in Wellington, New Zealand. I am married to my husband of 15 years and I am a secondary school teacher.

"I lost my mother and a close friend to cancer within nine months of each other. This was a very tough time and taught me to appreciate life to the fullest.

"I’d recommend volunteering with Age UK Norfolk’s befriending service. It is important to empathise with people, and nice to think that there will be someone to help you when you are older and may need help or someone to talk to."

Let’s Get Digital

Age UK Norfolk is also proud of its Let’s Get Digital project, which began during the first lockdown.

Jen Field said: “We knew that a lot of older people were also missing seeing family and friends due to lockdown. Many had the equipment to be able to make a video call but not the knowledge.

“Our digital inclusion team are here to support anyone over 50 who would like to learn basic skills on how to use their tablet or device (we also offer a device loan scheme if needed.) We are proud that we have supported older people to get online and independently manage their online shopping or video call a loved one.

“I would like to say a huge thank you to all of our staff and volunteers as they all do an amazing job in supporting the older people of Norfolk,” she said.

To find out more email or call 01603 863811.

To enquire about volunteering for Age UK Norfolk, visit their website, email or call 01603 785210.