Simon and Amy

When Simon Blackwood dropped out of his college course shortly before Christmas last year, he had fewer and fewer reasons to leave the house.

Simon, 22, has Asperger's syndrome and finds it difficult to meet new people, and was soon left with few people of his own age around him.

'I realised that I had very little going on,' said Simon, who lives in the Marlpit area of Norwich.

'I wasn't really leaving the house or seeing many people.

'I tried going to college, but that fell through and I wasn't getting out of the house very much.'

Though he tried volunteering himself, Simon soon found his social circle consisted just of his own family.

It was his brother who first made the call to Voluntary Norfolk, at Simon's request, to enquire about the befriending scheme.

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He was paired with Amy Thomas, a postgraduate student at the UEA, around the turn of the year and the pair meet up every week.

Their meetings have given Simon another outlet for his interests, and Amy's enthusiasm has helped him to develop his own confidence in trying new things and visiting new places.

He said: 'I have my family about me, but you can only talk to them about certain things. Having someone like Amy to talk to on a regular basis has been good for me.

'I feel like I'm a bit more confident because I'm doing a bit more.

The two share an interest in languages, but vary their meetings: sometimes having a coffee at the Forum, sometimes taking a walk in the city or playing badminton.

Amy, 27, has to fit her meetings with Simon around the demands of a PhD in environmental science, but says taking the time out is important to her.

'I've done volunteering before, but when it's one on one like this, you get to know each other well.

'I've also learned a lot. I used to live with someone with Asperger's and you assume that's it, but talking to Simon and other people I have found out a lot.'

The pair's regular meetings have already been a reward in themselves, and they plan to maintain them.

Simon now hopes to sign up for a course at the University of East Anglia tailored to students with autistic spectrum conditions.

He added: 'I'm more comfortable around people that I know, and I've done some things that I wouldn't have done it if hadn't been for Amy.'