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How to volunteer: befriending

Amanda Angus / 09 September 2016 ( 04 October 2019 )

Around a million older people regularly go a month without social contact. If you'd like to make a difference, befriending could be the answer.

Two older people share a cup of tea - one a volunteer befriender, one a formerly lonely older person

A problem that isn't going to go away

It's a sad fact that as people get older, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to stay socially active. Children fly the nest, and friends and loved ones grow old and can either start to pass away, or move away to be closer to their own children.

Health issues that physically keep people housebound are in many instances just as serious an impediment to getting out and about as anxiety can be - the worry that something might happen outside keeps many people indoors.

So is there any wonder that according to ageuk, around a million older people regularly go a month without social contact? And how, according to the Silver Line, around five million people consider the TV to be their main form of company?

With research showing that social interaction helps prevent dementia setting in, the real question is what can we all do to help combat loneliness in older people.

15 ways to deal with loneliness

How you can help

If you're outgoing, chatty, or simply want to be able to make a difference to a lonely person, befriending could be the answer.

It's fairly self-explanatory; you take an hour or so every week to visit a housebound older person in order to alleviate their loneliness and boredom.

In essence, you become their friend - and although it might be strange at first to start visiting someone you've never met, in time you probably will become firm friends.

If time constraints or your geographical location mean you would rather chat over the phone, you can become a telephone befriender with the Silver Line – sparing a few minutes every few days to have a chat or share a joke can make all the difference to a lonely person’s week.

Make a start today

Once you've decided to make a difference, you can either get in touch with your local volunteering service, or go directly to ageuk.

You'll need to get a DBS check, to ensure that you don't have a criminal record - unsurprisingly, as you'll be visiting a potentially very vulnerable person.

You'll probably be interviewed too, not only to check that you're the right person for this type of volunteering role, but also to try to match you up with someone who shares a similar outlook on life, interests or beliefs.

Dilemma: My son has no friends

Unexpected benefits for you

If you speak to anyone who has decided to become a befriender, the overwhelming response you'll get is how much volunteering in this way has benefited the befriender themselves.

Taking time out of your busy life to enjoy a cup of tea with someone who looks forward to your arrival can do wonders for your mood, but not only that - you'll learn new things, see the world through different eyes, and probably wind up with a friend whose company you value as much as they value yours.

Discover five of our top ways to volunteer in retirement

A word from a befriending expert

Nikki Holt, Befriending & Volunteer Co-ordinator at the Volunteer Centre Shepway, says “Befrienders are special people who are kind, patient and compassionate. Our scheme at Volunteer Centre Shepway only asks for a commitment of an hour a week.

“An hour is a very small request in comparison to the positive impact a befriender can make to someone’s life, especially if they are experiencing loneliness and have little social contact with the outside world. It may sound simple, but it really can make a huge impact.

“Many of the relationships have been running for a number of years and people really do become true friends. They are very much two-way relationships. Wisdom is shared and fascinating life stories swapped. 

“Each year we receive so many positive comments from both befrienders and clients about the impact the service has on them. We have a very diverse group of people involved. Currently our befrienders are aged early thirties to mid-eighties and we have two clients aged 101!”

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.