Thank you – Norwich Evening News readers throw lifeline to city’s vulnerable people

Thank you – that's the message from Voluntary Norfolk, the Norwich Evening News and the people you have helped.

More than 70 of you have signed up to provide a vital lifeline to vulnerable people in your communities since we launched our A Friend in Need campaign six months ago.

We asked you to give up your time to make a difference in the life of someone who may be elderly, suffering with mental ill health or simply have no one else in their lives – and you responded.

'We'd like to say thank you to everyone who has come forward as a volunteer since the campaign was launched,' said Will Mills, community volunteering coordinator at Voluntary Norfolk, pictured below. 'We have an unprecedented level of interest in everything we do since the summer – whether that be in befriending or any of the other voluntary services we offer.'

Almost half of Voluntary Norfolk's 160-strong volunteer pool has joined as a direct result of the Friend in Need campaign, taking the number of people paired with a befriender to over 100.

Norwich Evening News editor Nigel Pickover said: 'When we launched A Friend in Need, our aim was to make sure that vulnerable people in Norwich could get regular visits from a befriender to support them and improve their quality of life.

'Six months into the campaign, more than 70 readers have come forward to make a positive difference to the people who live around them – and the figure is rising steadily.

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'Friendships have already blossomed, and thanks to the enthusiasm and generosity of our volunteers, the lives of isolated people all over the city have been changed for the better.'

Each befriending volunteer has agreed to spend two hours a week with someone elderly, vulnerable or isolated – people who may have no other visitors during the week.

The befrienders' time provides a lifeline to the outside world for many people left housebound by old age, disability or mental ill health, and they act as a reassuring presence to those who lack the confidence to venture outside alone.

Since June, the Norwich Evening News has been profiling the clients and volunteers who have made Voluntary Norfolk's befriending programme such a valuable and valued service.

'The new influx of volunteers we have had means that we can have far greater confidence in pairing people,' said Mr Mills.

'We can make sure that people are matched with those with the same interests.'

Creating matches that are as strong and appropriate as possible gives them the best chance of succeeding over time.

'They last for longer, need less input from us, and cause less worry for everyone involved,' said Mr Mills.

'Now when I meet a new client I can now tell them there is an honest likelihood of being able to match them quickly. The process is much quicker.'

That speed in pairing a person in need with someone who can help them is crucial – though befrienders don't offer professional care, the time they give up can be just as important to a person in need.

A Friend in Need has helped Voluntary Norfolk to reach people it would not have been able to otherwise, said Mr Mills. 'We have more male volunteers than ever before.

'We tend to have more women, but the new volunteers we have on our books have come from all kinds of backgrounds.'

The charity has also received more self-referrals than previously – people who have come forward to ask for help, many for the first time.

'It's a tough thing to call in: to say that you think you need help and you'd like a befriender.

'But the raised awareness that has been raised by the campaign means that people who wouldn't before are now taking that step.

'There are also lots of volunteers coming in and asking about other opportunities that we offer.'