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Anyone can become a befriender and help vulnerable people in Norwich

PUBLISHED: 15:10 13 June 2012 | UPDATED: 16:15 15 June 2012

Amy Thomas, a community befriender, who is part of a befriending scheme where she regularly meets with Simon Blackwood who has Asperger's for a chat. Picture: Denise Bradley

Amy Thomas, a community befriender, who is part of a befriending scheme where she regularly meets with Simon Blackwood who has Asperger's for a chat. Picture: Denise Bradley

Archant

Volunteer befrienders in Norwich as young as 18 are helping vulnerable people of their own age.

There’s no template for the kind of person who can volunteer – or the kind of person who might one day need a befriender.

Voluntary Norfolk has vulnerable people as young as 18 on its books – people who struggle with isolation through mental ill health or unfortunate family circumstances.

These people, Voluntary Norfolk’s clients, come to the befriending scheme looking for a way to reconnect themselves with the outside world and meet new people.

And volunteers are not simply the recently retired with new-found time on their hands, but motivated young people determined to do something for the people and communities around them.

The age and background of many clients and volunteers can surprise people, admits community volunteer co-ordinator Will Mills, below right.

“People approach befriending thinking it’s about visiting the elderly but it’s so much more,” he said. “We have clients and volunteers as young as 18, and opportunities for volunteers who are even younger.”

Young clients, who may have suffered with depression, high anxiety issues or memory loss, often benefit from being matched with young volunteers.

Spending time with a person of a similar age outside of their family, sharing interests or acquiring new ones, can boost their confidence.

Volunteers and clients spend around two hours a week together, which can involve a simple home visit, a shopping trip or playing sport – whatever the pair feel confident and comfortable doing.

Mr Mills said: “Our clients are not helpless, and we are not trying to provide counsellors.

“But sometimes they may find it difficult to be on their own in public, or are a bit daunted by going to new places.

“That affects their confidence in themselves, so having someone with them can help them through those situations.

“Interacting with people close to their own age – people outside of their family, and who want to be there – is hugely valuable.”

Volunteers do not offer medical care and require no prior experience, meaning that a teenage volunteer can provide the same vital service as an older volunteer.

And the benefit for the volunteer should not be overlooked either, added Mr Mills.

“Most of our clients are older, but volunteers of all ages can get something from the scheme,” he said.

“Both parties should get something from the match, and enjoy it. Our volunteers tell me they go to the seaside, go out and play sports, they sit in the park and learn the guitar with their clients.

“In a way it doesn’t matter what you choose to do, because it’s about spending quality time with people who need it.”

In tomorrow’s Evening News: volunteering as a route back into work.

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