How befriending frees up help for those most in need in Norwich

Being a community befriender is a simple job – but one that frees up vital services for the people who are most in need.

Clients referred to Voluntary Norfolk's befriending scheme are often in situations where a friendly face once a week can make the world of difference.

Having a regular visit from someone who cares can lift the spirits and boost the confidence of people suffering in isolation, or coping with disability or mental illness.

Visiting carers and nurses often have several clients to see and lack the time to sit, talk and provide company to those they look after, which is where befriending volunteers can help.

Though volunteers never replace a paid position, they can complement the professionals' work, as well as taking responsibility for some of the small tasks that make a big difference to a person's quality of life.

'We work with people alongside health professionals to help free them up,' said Brian Horner, chief executive of Voluntary Norfolk.

'That could be in a hospital setting or in a community setting.

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'For example, stroke victims often need rehabilitation quickly before they slip back.

'Our volunteers can help with wheelchair pushing, taking patients out and dedicating to them that little bit of time and energy.'

He said that even the simplest acts could provide a boost to people dealing with health or social difficulties, generating a confidence that can then feed into other areas of their life.

Mr Horner said: 'I speak with volunteers who say they don't do anything special because they just take their client shopping.

'But that's not 'all' they do: they might be dealing with someone with mental health difficulties, and during that time they are offering a bit of companionship, a chance to listen.'

Steve Girling joined the befriending scheme as a way to pass the time productively when he retired from the police service and moved to Norfolk.

He takes weekly walks with Peter Bugdale (see panel), who has memory problems following a brain injury.

Peter had been accompanied on walks organised by Active Norfolk by a support worker from Headway, the head injury charity. Steve's role – meeting Peter in the city and walking the route with him – has now freed that support worker up to help others with more severe problems.

'Our first walk was very gratifying actually, because we saw Peter's support worker with someone else,' said Steve, 53. 'Our match has worked well as we are about the same age and have the same sense of humour.

'I don't do anything difficult – just meeting Peter and having a nice walk. It fulfils me and it's something that Peter enjoys, and it releases his support worker to help with others as well.'