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BE a friend

It’s nice to have a friend you can call for a natter, take a stroll with or who just pop round for a cup a tea. But some don’t have that luxury that many of us can take for granted.

Loneliness can leave you feeling isolated and disconnected from others. It can leave you afraid of social situations and impact on your health.

But BEfriend, a local charity of volunteers, provides much needed companionship to scores of residents who find themselves alone.

Community spirit

Naeema, 30, joined BEfriend as a volunteer about 5 years ago. She grew up in the Caribbean before moving to the UK a decade ago and missed the strong sense of community she had left behind, so she decided to give something back to her new community.

Within weeks of signing up to become a befriender, Naeema was paired with Sheila, 89. Sheila’s son had suggested the service to his mum after he got talking to a volunteer at an information stand. He was moving away and wanted to be sure his mum would be seeing friendly faces on a regular basis.
Naeema was training to become a teacher at the time, and she now also has a 3-year-old son and a newborn daughter – all wonderful journeys that Sheila has shared with her.

‘A sense of belonging’

Naeema said: “Before having my first baby I used to come and see Sheila on a Saturday as I was working full time, but since having my son I went part-time so I visit now on one of my non-working days while he’s at nursery.

“When you do something like volunteering, it gives you a sense of belonging.”

Sheila has 2 sons who live in Scotland, and 3 grandchildren, so is well-versed in parenting life and enjoys sharing stories with Naeema.

The pair say they look forward to their weekly chats, especially if it’s with a slice of coffee and walnut cake, and they have also enjoyed going to a BEfriend social event together too.

Sheila said: “I’m quite a sociable person and like company, I enjoy Naeema’s friendship. Some people aren’t so lucky and sit in their house all day and have no one to talk to.”

BEfriend also runs Linked Minds, a befriending scheme to support clients with mental health problems.

Benefits to volunteering

Volunteers play an incredibly important role in our community, and the benefits work both ways.
If you’re looking to meet new people, interested in charitable causes or want to learn skills to help your career, volunteering could be just the thing for you. You also have the chance to make a difference in the lives of others.

So, if you think you can spare a couple of hours a week to visit someone in need, BEfriend would love to hear from you.

The charity offers training and plenty of support, and even organises social events for volunteers and their clients to get together, meet one another and have some fun.

BEfriending co-ordinator, Jill Shaw, said: “There are lots of social benefits for volunteers and it can also be a way of getting into a caring profession. Both volunteers and clients have something to bring to the party, we all have something to learn from one another.”

Councillor Josh Blacker, Ealing Council’s cabinet member for healthy lives, added: “As well as a sense of satisfaction at doing something good, volunteering can provide you with new skills and has wider mental health benefits too. Research suggests that volunteers appear to experience less depression and improved mental wellbeing than others.”

Find out how to become a BEfriender.

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