Supporting the delivery of the Pioneering Care Partnership’s (PCP) Befriending Services, a devoted ‘befriender’ is making a difference through conversation, companionship and a good ‘cuppa’.
So, what is befriending, and how does a ‘befriender’ support people?
Befriending is the act of becoming a friend to someone, especially when they are in need of help or support. With reports of loneliness within communities on the rise, befrienders play a key role in bringing people together to combat loneliness through conversation and friendship.
After moving from Liverpool and settling in Darlington in the 80s, Jean Griffiths originally visited the Pioneering Care Centre (PCC) in Newton Aycliffe to access services herself. She said: “I initially came to the pain clinic as I have arthritis in my back. I started talking to Bev and Annette on reception and they suggested about becoming a volunteer.”
On the left, Jean Griffiths, PCP Befriender
PCP offers volunteering across its projects and services, with many volunteers joining to meet new people, try something new and develop new skills. From opportunities in gardening, supporting PCP’s Together 21 and Options service, to helping communities access health and social care information – all of PCP’s volunteers make a huge impact.
Looking back at why she started volunteering, Jean added: “I went home and thought about it, and rang up the next day and said ‘I’d like to be a volunteer!’
“I didn’t say what I wanted to do specifically, I just said that I like people and that I’m a people person. I used to be an Activity Coordinator in a nursing home and worked in the health service most of life, so I asked to join as a volunteer for the Dementia Support Group and I really enjoyed it, but then the pandemic hit.”
To protect communities, in person services were limited during the pandemic. But PCP’s Befriending Services became a lifeline for many, with the ‘Every Call Counts’ phone service created to offer support to those impacted by social isolation.
Jean was no longer able to volunteer for the Dementia Support Group with in-person services on hold, she reflected and said: “I remember Ann from PCP rang and asked if I would be interested in joining the befriending services as a volunteer. For me it started as Every Call Counts, where I called people to chat to them. I had about two or three people that I would chat to regularly.
“It’s rewarding that everybody on the phone that I’ve spoken to has said that they enjoy speaking to me. It’s part of why I do it, I want to help people, and if they find the experience rewarding, then that’s rewarding for me and makes me feel like I’ve made a difference."
Befriending Group at the Pioneering Care Centre
Speaking about who engages with the Every Call Counts service, Jean said: “It’s not all the same, different people with different needs, different backgrounds, and as I say I’m a people person, and I love to find out about people, and with my personal experience too, I feel like I can empathise with what some people here might also be going through. It’s nice to feel that connection.”
Following on from Every Call Counts, PCP created a Befriending Group as part of its Befriending Services. The Befriending Group is delivered in person at the PCC and Jean actively supports it as a befriender.
She said: “The group is vital, even without the last couple of years being the way it has been, people do get lonely, I know people from the group who have moved from different areas and are trying to make friends, and I had that myself, moving from Liverpool to up here in the 80s, and it is daunting trying to make new friends.
“Particularly during the pandemic people have become more and more isolated and depressed, and a few people have said to me that these sessions lift their spirits so much and how wonderful it is, and to have a nice cup of tea.”
PCP’s Befriending Group has an active attendance of around 18 people – all enjoying the company, a chat, refreshments and the opportunity to form friendships. Jean said: “Ann suggested about doing a quiz at the group, and the quiz then took off! People love doing it, general quizzes in the beginning, then it branched out to different topics, with people suggesting different themes each week it grew to be something everybody enjoys and loves doing. It is always a very inclusive and comfortable environment.
“We get people attending mostly from the local area, but it isn’t exclusive to the local area. People bring other people, so the message definitely spreads and shows a need for befriending.”
When asking Jean what befriending means to her, she said: “I had an idea of what befriending was, I’m aware of what the subject matter is, partly because of the jobs I’ve done in the past. I’ve also had personal experience of caring, as I cared for my husband and mum when they were ill over a period of six years, they have since passed away, and throughout that time I really wish I had someone to talk to. Through my own personal experience I would have liked something like befriending then, so that’s why I agreed to be a part of it.
“Because of what happened to my husband, he got pneumonia when we were on holiday, and they thought he got if from the plane journey home. Dave was 51 at the time and was on life support for five weeks. He did come home but hadn’t fully recovered, and he got another infection that ultimately killed him at 53 - and you just think it can happen to anyone at any time.
“This changed my outlook on things, life’s too short, and life is for living. This is why I love supporting befriending to try and help people overcome their difficulties in their lives.”
Befriending Group at the Pioneering Care Centre
PCP’s Befriending Group takes place weekly at the PCC on a Tuesday from 12.30pm to 2.00pm, with all ages welcome to join in. Jean added: “Recently there were two ladies who were in the café and they asked me if they needed to move, and I just said no of course not, why not join us? They joined in and said ‘it was wonderful speaking and meeting new people’ and that what it’s all about.
“It’s little activities that can potentially go a long way for people. It’s sharing the experience and bringing people together that’s helpful.”
PCP would like to thank our befriender Jean for sharing her story on what befriending means to her and for everything that she does for our Befriending Services.
To find out more about volunteering opportunities with PCP, including our Befriending Services, visit our volunteer webpage.