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Leading befriending research underway in County Durham

Brought to you by the Pioneering Care Partnership (PCP) and the NHS County Durham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), an insight into befriending services, future models and current impacts these services face.


The PCP's Befriending Research Project started in April 2021, with two Research Officers recruited to connect and gather information from befriending services, peer support services and service users throughout the North East.


Kelly Carswell and Vic Dixon, both Research Officers, began their insight with a survey, which is still actively receiving responses. The survey so far has received responses from befriending organisations, service users and other relevant professionals. From this, research has extended into the impact of COVID-19 on people’s mental health, and how it has caused a severe amount of social isolation and loneliness. This area of research is reflective of both 'pre and post-Covid' times. Further research has focused on digital inclusion and the impact this has had on befriending and peer support services during the pandemic.


Initial research first reviewed different peer support and befriending methods that are actually available, which led to a fantastic network of contacts for further insight.


Taking the next step in their research, Kelly and Vic are underway setting up focus groups where professionals, organisations and individuals who want to share their views on befriending are able to express their opinions freely to contribute to real life research and findings. Two focus group sessions are set to go ahead, with one taking place on Monday 15th November from 10am until 11am, and the other on Tuesday 23rd November 6pm until 7pm.


The team has shown resilience in reaching out to people whilst abiding to COVID-19 recommended guidelines from the Local Authority. They have actively used other methods of communication including phone calls, Microsoft Teams (or similar), as well as socially distanced face-to-face work.


Findings so far from the Befriending Research Project are leading to discussions on how and why befriending services have been accessed more during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in contrast to this, a few organisations reported less service users, mainly due to face-to-face befriending services ability to take place during the pandemic. This has led to further research and focus on how digital inclusion has and can impact befriending services.


Research is also reviewing how people access befriending services - is it one to one support, group sessions, online or telephone support? It's like many factors impact that, including digital inclusion. Further research will engage with accessibility of befriending services and what one or more models may be recommended.


You can offer information or support upcoming focus groups with the Befriending Research Team by getting in touch with Kelly Carswell on kelly.carswell@pcp.uk.net or Vic Dixon on victoria.dixon@pcp.uk.net.






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