My Befriending Experience

16 March 2021 Reading time: 3 mins

As part of our Making a Positive Difference vision and partnership with Business in the Community, we’ve been providing support to Cyrenians’ Older People Active Lives (OPAL) service. This service, provided by the charity, supports those aged 60+ to increase their independence and well-being by connecting them to a team of dedicated volunteers who offer encouragement, companionship and assistance.

We asked our Head of Customer Relations, Stella Leitch, who currently volunteers for the service, to tell us more about her experience of being a ‘befriender’ and what it means to her to be part of such a good cause.

Like many of us, when life starts to settle down from the roller-coaster of early adulthood, I started to feel that I should be giving something back to my community. I wasn’t sure what that would look like with so many worthy causes out there, and as a working mother with young kids it had to be something that I could fit in and commit to.

For some time I have felt that I’d like to do something to support the elderly and vulnerable. When a colleague at Business Stream talked so passionately about his experience of volunteering with the Cyrenians’ (OPAL) initiative and what he was getting from the experience, I knew this was something I wanted to get involved in.

Befrienders volunteer their time to support older people through weekly visits, either just having a chat, helping them get out and about or supporting them to engage in social activities. This could be to address an enduring need or to help them achieve specific goals, such as building the confidence to go to the shops after a period of illness. Under current circumstances however, being a befriender involves a weekly phone call to help older people feel less isolated - as getting out and about has been even more difficult recently.  

I felt this was the right opportunity for me. I had previous experience of supporting an older person; I'm a good listener; I'm interested in other people and; most importantly, I have a sense of humour! So, after the application process, which included a PVG check and interview, I attended two training sessions which set us up for successful befriending, prepared me to deal with any issues I might encounter, and explained the dos and don'ts of befriending. 

After a couple of weeks, I was matched to a lovely lady who was very independent until a few months ago when she suffered from a stroke. She’s very sociable and loves to get out and about, but since her stroke she is unable to do this unaided. She has carers to help her practically and her cousin gets her shopping for her, however she’s really missing chatting to people. I gave my new befriendee a call and we hit it off instantly, we realised we went to the same school (although 30 years apart!), and like me she enjoys a blether. She’s very interested in current affairs and loves to put the world to rights and tell me what she thinks about the hot topics of the day. I call her every Thursday evening, and I must say our chats are a perfect tonic after a busy day at work.

I report the high-level details of our call back to one of OPAL’s co-ordinators, and I would also highlight any concerns if she needed any practical help or support. I feel very well supported by the Cyrenians.

As a befriender, I have learned that you need to consider that while you may not be able to change what that person’s situation is or what they are going through, you can help them by making their journey a bit brighter. The little things become so much more important – just going out, having a cup of coffee, or in 2020/21 just having a chat over the phone can be hugely powerful. 
I am very honoured to have the opportunity to offer my friendship to my befriendee and others like her. The need is greater than ever now, so I’d say that if you’re looking to give something back that will change your life for the better, consider volunteering as a befriender. You won’t regret it!

If you'd like to become a Befriender, please contact Cyrenians to find out more.