Volunteers’ Week: celebrating our befrienders

volunteers weekThe first week in June is Volunteers’ Week, so we’ve been busy putting in our nominations for BVSC’s Volunteers of the Year from our pool of wonderful Volunteer Befrienders.

The befrienders service funded through Big Lottery Reaching Communities has been running at Gateway for a number of years now and we’re always looking for new volunteers and new clients.

Our befrienders visit people who, for whatever reason, want a bit of extra support and companionship. There are no set criteria – anyone can ask for a befriender.

Our volunteers come from all sorts of backgrounds. Some are volunteering as part of a university course while others simply want to do something in their spare time that allows them to meet people and benefit their local community.

Most befrienders work one-to-one, but some, like Stephen, who works with the Shenley Green walking group we wrote about recently, are involved with community groups and social activities.

Everybody benefits

For the client, having a befriender can be a way of reducing social isolation and building resilience. Many people talk about feeling more confident thanks to the support of a volunteer – being able to get on and do things they wouldn’t have done before. Being part of Gateway also gives clients access to a wider network of support – our experienced staff across all our departments have a broad knowledge of the help that’s available to people in Birmingham, and are experts in helping people to access it.

For the volunteers, befriending is a great way of getting work experience and preparing for employment. Volunteers can take a number of qualifications as part of their training, including Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) awards, which are nationally recognised. Volunteers are supported by Gateway’s Employment Access Skills and Training (EAST) team who can also help with CV writing and job references. All training costs and expenses for volunteers are met by Gateway.

Jean and Arlene’s story

Jean, who’s in her late 70s, got in touch with Gateway herself after hearing about the befrienders service from her GP. She lives on her own and felt that she might benefit from having a befriender.

arleneArlene (pictured) originally joined Gateway as a volunteer because she wanted to find out more about working with the Pregnancy Outreach Workers Service (POWS). There weren’t any opportunities to work with POWS clients at that time, so Arlene was paired with Jean as a befriender and began visiting her at home.

Arlene admits that she hadn’t originally thought about working with older people, but she says, “it’s been a learning experience for me working with Jean. It’s opened up a door of opportunity to another career path.

“I call Jean a ‘young lady’ because she has the spirit of a 17 year old. What a pleasure it is to work with her – she is an inspiration and a trooper. Even with her health issues, she remains active and independent. I thoroughly enjoy supporting her and we have a great laugh together.”

Jean is happy to have Arlene’s support. She says, “Arlene is very good to talk to. She helps me to do what I’ve got to do by talking to me and encouraging me; she bucks me up and is friendly and easy to get on with. I’m very glad that I’m working with her.”

Over the last few months, Jean has opened up to Arlene about her need for a bit of extra support. She says, “I’ve had a few falls recently and I lost a bit of confidence in myself. But going out with Arlene makes it easier for me and I feel a lot more confident.”

Sarah Hibberd, Gateway’s Volunteers Co-ordinator, says, “Arlene and Jean’s relationship is one that is very common between a befriender and a client; they speak very fondly of each other. They both enjoy each other’s company and Arlene is helping Jean to find the confidence to do things she needs to do but otherwise would put off. There is a good level of trust between them and that was shown when Jean was able to disclose to Arlene that she needed additional support.

“And for Arlene, working with someone from a different client group to those she’s previously worked with has enabled her to develop her skills and knowledge.”

Arlene added, “It really helps having Sarah’s support. I can phone her up, email, or text, for advice or just to chat about how I’m getting on. It gives my role great validation.

“I truly enjoy this work.”

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