Volunteering: Advice if you're considering befriending

Amanda Angus / 12 September 2016

Befriending is a great way to volunteer your time - with far-reaching benefits.



This handful of tips could help you to make the most of your befriending experience.

Be patient

Your befriendee will probably have hundreds of stories to tell you, stories that they may not have been able to tell in years, so you might end up hearing the same ones again and again, or a few to which the end might have been forgotten.

But try not to finish the story for them, or hurry them along - one of the huge benefits of your company is that it's a reason to remember and discuss their past with a new person, which is thought to help stave off dementia.

Additionally, they might forget when you last came round and berate you for not coming often enough, but remind them pleasantly when you last popped over and remember, they’re only grumpy because your company means the world to them. But on that note...

Keep your promises

Think seriously about what you'll be able to offer.

Don't get carried away with the novelty and promise five hours a week, when realistically you'll only be able to pop in for a cup of tea on a Saturday morning - the person you're befriending will probably come to rely on your visits and you don't want to let them down.

Be honest from the start with what you're able to offer, and you'll both know where you stand.

Remember, for you an hour with your new friend is just one element of your busy week; for them it could be the beacon of hope they wait for every day.

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Commit... but don't overcommit

Try not to get sucked into doing odd jobs and housework - it's a natural impulse to want to help, but if you set a precedent, once again they might get reliant on you and the lines between 'befriender' and 'helper' might become blurred.

Remember that your reason for visiting is to chat and keep them company, no more.

Of course, if after many years of friendship, you start doing the same things you would do for any of your friends or family, then don't hold back - just consider avoiding doing small chores until a real foundation of friendship has formed.

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Interact

You aren't supposed to sit quietly whilst your befriendee waxes lyrically about the good old days - it's supposed to be a conversation, not a monologue or a therapy session.

Share as many details about your personal life as you're comfortable doing; that way you might end up getting good advice, or at least a different perspective on any issues troubling you, as well as someone who'll rejoice in your good news.

That said, it should go both ways - make sure you leave having listened to them tell you about their week.

And if conversation takes a while to start flowing, take along a board game, pack of cards or jigsaw puzzle – often sitting in companionable silence is enjoyable as conversation.

Get ready to feel good

You might not expect just how fond you'll get of the person waiting for your visit. 

Odds are you'll quickly develop a routine with them - perhaps putting the kettle on as soon as you get in, or discussing the news, or joking about a sports team - but that routine will become as dear to you as it is to them. 

Taking a moment out of your life to be truly altruistic and help a fellow human in need with something as simple and basic as companionship tends to have far-reaching benefits that extend beyond the hour or so you share a cup of tea and a biscuit. 

You'll feel better, and they'll feel better, and because of you, the world will be a slightly better place.

How to volunteer: Befriending

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