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Desperate plea for more male volunteers in Norwich

PUBLISHED: 09:33 30 June 2012 | UPDATED: 08:07 03 July 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

Today the Evening News calls on men of all ages in Norwich to become a befriending volunteer and improve the lives of the city's vulnerable people.

A Friend in Need

A Friend in Need is an Evening News campaign seeking to increase the number of Voluntary Norfolk community befrienders in Norwich.

With people living longer, communities becoming more disparate, and support services constantly over-subscribed, the risk of isolated and vulnerable people slipping away from everyday life becomes greater.

But community befrienders can make the difference.

Spending two hours with a person who may have no other visitors that week is a small commitment, but it can bring huge benefits.

We launched our Friend in Need campaign earlier this month, aiming to boost the number of people volunteering across the city, and will be featuring stories from volunteers and clients over the coming months.

As Voluntary Norfolk’s team sees time and again, when someone knows they are being cared for, it breathes confidence into other areas of their life, leads to genuine friendships and – most importantly – can be a whole lot of fun.

More than 30 volunteers have already responded to our Friend in Need campaign to recruit community befrienders – but only two are men.

The surge in volunteers is a tenfold increase on Voluntary Norfolk’s usual recruitment rate, and will be “a massive boost” , according to the head of the service.

Will Mills, community volunteer coordinator said: “The 30-plus people who have signed up following the campaign in the Evening News will give us a 20 per cent increase in our volunteer force.

“It’s going to be a massive boost, and will go a long way to the sustainability of the service.

“These new volunteers coming through are the future.

“Having this influx provides us with the foundation to continue offering the befriending service, if funding were given, way into the future.”

Tim Williams, editor of the Evening News, said: “Our readers have once again shown their generosity and determination to improve the lives of vulnerable people living in their communities.

“The new volunteers will make a real difference to these people, helping them reconnect with the outside world, boost their self-esteem and make new friends.

“We hope that many more people will follow that lead and make sure that no one in Norwich has to suffer through isolation.”

Each volunteer, once matched with a client, spends a couple of hours a week helping them with tasks around the home, going for outings or simply dropping in for a chat.

Each volunteer, once matched with a client, spends a couple of hours a week helping them with tasks around the home, going for outings or simply dropping in for a chat.

Despite the overwhelming variety of responses – with people from all over Norwich, aged from 21 to 70, from a host of backgrounds – all but two of the volunteers are women.

That means that some people suffering from isolation, disability or mental ill health are waiting longer than others to be matched with a volunteer.

“There are always a few clients who say they would rather have a male volunteer or a female volunteer,” said Mr Mills.

“Some clients are just missing male company – their visiting carers are predominantly female – and they sometimes have to wait a little bit longer to be matched with a volunteer.

“It could be just popping round to chat about the weather or watch a game of football.”

Mr Mills said that volunteers from a range of backgrounds had signed up since A Friend in Need was launched in early June, and that he was still keen to hear from anyone interested in joining the scheme.

“There have been young mothers busy with the school run in the morning and afternoon, but looking for something to do in between, recently retired people, young people in their 20s, and those looking to get into careers in health and social care.

“The phrase ‘giving something back’ seems to crop up constantly, and it’s something a lot of people would like to do.”

The group of volunteers will mean that clients in the outskirts of Norwich, areas in which Voluntary Norfolk has had difficulty recruiting befrienders, now have access to a vital lifeline.

However, more are still needed for areas such as Bowthorpe, Lakenham, Sprowston, Hellesdon and Thorpe.

WANT TO VOLUNTEER?

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 the 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 more call Voluntary Norfolk on 01603 614474, email admin@voluntarynorfolk.org.uk or visit www.voluntarynorfolk.org.uk

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