Befriending services struggling to meet huge demand for help

Loneliness comes at a cost for cancer patients.Loneliness comes at a cost for cancer patients.
Loneliness comes at a cost for cancer patients.
The scale of loneliness in our communities means many voluntary befriending schemes are unable to meet the huge demands for their services.

A fresh supply of volunteers are essential if charitable organisations are to reach more vulnerable older people. Weekly contact with a befriender offers a vital lifeline for many older people living with loneliness. Charities report that their services have a profound and transformative effect on the wellbeing and quality of life of people who would otherwise have little or no social contact with others.

The Royal Voluntary Service’s Good Neighbours befriending project in Kirklees is in particularly high demand. Around 150 people volunteer for the charity across the district, including 117 as befrienders who visit older people in their homes. Between them they are able to regularly visit 164 older people but there are more than 130 others on a waiting list and the minimum waiting period is 16 weeks.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Fazila Aswat, locality manager for RVS in West Yorkshire, said: “The service is unable to meet the demand for those that really need it and often vulnerable, older people are left isolated and alone. This is really disheartening but our army of current volunteers do a fantastic job and we just need the numbers to double. The answer lies in local people that could give as little as an hour once a week to help an older person in their local area – the difference we could make together could be massive.”

Volunteers are also needed for the charity’s Home from Hospital scheme in Kirklees, which supports older people after they are discharged from hospital, she said.

There is a shortage of volunteers across Sheffield. Around 30 RVS befrienders are able to visit around 40 clients a week but a further 50 are waiting for support.

Wilma Smith, Good Neighbours project manager for Sheffield, said: “It’s very, very difficult to try and reach everyone who needs our help. You could never have enough people to cover the demand for the city and, you wouldn’t think so, but there is a massive need in more affluent areas where people move away to pursue careers and leave family behind.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Paul Taylor, area manager for the RVS across South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and York, said more volunteers are required in every area of the region.

“In all the areas of Yorkshire that I cover, there is more demand for our service than there is supply of volunteers and we have just started two new services in Bradford and Barnsley to concentrate on areas of highest deprivation.”

Those who are waiting to be matched with a befriender are reached by a telephone befriending service as a temporary measure, Mr Taylor said.

In Leeds, a team of volunteers at the award-winning Garforth Neighbourhood Elders Team (NET) run similar operations. Twenty-six volunteers man the phone lines of its telephone service. In total they typically take around 140 calls a week.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Garforth NET works in the 13 villages of East Leeds providing support to older people over the age of 60 and their carers. It has 157 volunteer befrienders who regularly visit 132 older people in their homes.

Monica Walker, manager of Garforth NET, said: “There is so much need out there for befriending services.

“We started our telephone befriending scheme about seven years ago and it’s been going from strength to strength, and we have recently won a contract with the NHS to take on more volunteers and a staff team member.”

Volunteering as a befriender can be a great personal experience, she added: “Our volunteers report improved job prospects and that they have opened themselves up to wider social networks. It also helps their clients to become accepted and valued as full members of the community in their own right as a key role in what we do is share information from other local agencies and groups to make them aware of what else is happening in their community - events and activities.”