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Befriending volunteers wanted

Nicky Rooney, Coordinator of the Operation Rushmoor Community Action (ORCA) Telephone Befriending Service, is convinced that loneliness is at the core of most peoples’ reason for using the Befriending Service, which was set up in April this year as part of the local response to the pandemic.

She said: “The Befriending Service was set up to provide comfort and support to people who were shielding during the first lockdown, and to those who were experiencing loneliness, who needed someone to talk to.”

The service currently provides support to 18 residents, some of whom have complex problems, but all of whom are lonely. Some residents are completely isolated, with no family, and may not speak to anyone for days at a time.

A total of 12 Befrienders, of all ages, are currently supporting the residents, with most speaking to their friend for at least half an hour, once a week. The volunteer befrienders receive guidance on confidentiality and safeguarding, and they all have access to a counselling service, if required. Volunteers come from all backgrounds, including people in a professional role, people with children and people who are retired.

Nicky said: “Residents who may benefit from the Telephone Befriending Service can access our support through calling the Support and Helpline. The request will come to me and I will check to see if I have a volunteer available and contact the resident to have an initial chat to find out their needs, and preferences for when someone can call.

“We had one couple who were very isolated. The man could not hear very well and struggled to use technology such as Skype. When we chatted, it transpired that he loved football, and missed talking about it, so I matched him with a Befriender, with similar interests, who is knowledgeable about football.”

“One of the positive things to have come out of our response to the pandemic has been the sense of community spirit which has flourished and is wonderful to see.

“Our volunteers, of which I am one, are helping a group of lonely people, but we are also benefitting from our contact with them. We all get a lot of fulfillment from volunteering as it is a two-way street. Being part of a community is hugely rewarding, and important relationships are made through that voice on the phone.”

Heather Chalkley, Community Development Officer for Rushmoor Voluntary Services, said: “We continue to recruit new Responders to the ORCA team, including Telephone Befrienders. We know that the need for support for people who are shielding or self-isolating is going to continue.

“If you have a few hours a week and can offer to help, we urge you to sign up at www.rvs.org.uk.”

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