Befrienders are trained volunteers from organisations or charities who help us (or those we care for) feel less lonely through companionship. These can include visits to our home, or regular phone call chats. See some helpful befriending services across the UK below.
Cara Japon, Adult carer lead from Action for Family Carers in Essex, shares her thoughts on how befriending can support carers who are experiencing loneliness.
Being a carer can feel lonely. Loneliness happens when we feel isolated – perhaps because other people don’t understand the responsibilities we have, or because we have stopped doing things we used to love.
Maybe we used to play football once a week but now can’t find the time, or being on call for the person we care for means we can never make it out with friends.
Befriending is one way we can take a break from caring and reduce feelings of loneliness. Befrienders can be for ourselves or the person we care for.
If they support the person we care for, it may give us the freedom to rekindle our friendships and hobbies. If the befriender supports us, then they can become a great friend and support.
What are befriending services?
As mentioned earlier, befrienders are trained volunteers from organisations or charities who can visit us or have regular phone calls with us (or the person we care for) to keep us company.
Think of befrienders as ‘new friends’ that we, or the person we care for, get to spend time with. So that we can take a break from caring for a couple of hours or get back to doing something we love. Along the way, we might even find new interests!
What do befrienders do?
Depending on the befriending service, some befrienders arrange weekly visits with us, or the person we care for (in our home). This can be for an hour or sometimes more. During this time, befrienders provide company through a range of things such as genuine conversations or engage in fun hobbies.
Some carers have shared that they’ve had great experiences with befrienders, building friendships they never expected.
Befriending services can also be available by telephone and also by email.
Are befriending services free?
The good news is befriending services are free, so we don’t have to worry about cost – befrienders are volunteers and happy to give their time.
Why is befriending good?
Here are three top reasons why befriending services can be helpful for us as carers.
1. Build new friendships
It’s completely normal to be on the fence when thinking about befrienders - they’re essentially people we don’t know, coming into our house to keep us or the person we care for company.
But if we remember that our friends were strangers before we met them, we may be able to feel better about giving the idea a try.
A regular weekly chat with the same person provides the opportunity to have a ‘proper’ conversation and to develop a new relationship.
Even if we have friends and family to talk to on a regular basis, it’s good sometimes to talk to someone new that may see things differently and offer a fresh perspective.
2. An opportunity for us to take a break
Whether our new ‘friend’ comes to visit us, or the person we care for once a week, for a couple of hours, this can give us an opportunity to step away from caring for a while. Giving us the little breather we need.
Think about what are some of the things you would want to do with your time, if you could step away from caring for an hour?
3. Resparking a hobby
With the support of a befriender, members often restart activities they used to enjoy – whether that’s volunteering in the community or taking up playing sport again. The benefits to both mental and physical health are numerous
Feel secure in using a befriending service
We don’t need to worry about the befriender we are matched with. All befrienders understand the challenges that carers face.
Here’s what we can expect:
Befrienders should be DBS-checked volunteers
Befrienders realise it can be difficult for carers to talk to friends and family about their caring role and that carers can often be socially isolated. They will offer understanding and companionship
They can remind us when carer support groups are on, and refer us back to a support worker if further support or information is needed
Befrienders aim to call at a time that suits us
How do I get a befriender?
Below are some befriending projects across the UK that offer effective support to people of different ages, as suggested by carers in our community.
Befriending services in the UK
Action for Family Carers, Hamelin Trust, Independent Age and Mind in West Essex are working together to help address loneliness and social isolation in Essex. At Action for Family Carers, we often see that befriending can help to increase confidence and self-esteem among our carers.
Befriending services for carers in Cambridgeshire. Age UK Cambridgeshire & Peterborough’s Sharing Time Scheme matches the person we care for to a DBS checked and trained volunteer who can meet with them every week to do any activity they wish.
Essex Befriends offers befriending services to people over 18 years of age and who are carers, older people or those experiencing mental ill-health or a learning disability.
Befriending services for carers in Highland. Some of the Helping Hands volunteers can provide short car trips/outings, read together or help with a hobby.
Talking Bubble Befriending service in Leicester. Providing an over-the-phone befriending service in over eight languages.
Befriending and visiting services in Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin with AgeUK. Their volunteers can visit us at our home, or we can choose to have regular telephone calls.
For those of us caring for a child, then Home-Start UK can offer valuable support, if our child/children are under five years of age.
“I was really nervous about having a Home-Start volunteer. I kind of felt like a bit of a failure. I needn’t have worried. I had three different volunteers over four years and they were all wonderful. They were non-judgemental and a great support to me and my children” - Parent carer
Some carers in the Mobilise community have also shared that they were able to arrange a befriending service through their local church - building lovely relationships with a new 'friend' who comes for regular visits.
If we specifically want to find companionship for ourselves, then our Mobilise online cuppas are a perfect opportunity to chat with other carers and build connections.
Companiions offer paid, on-demand companionship for those of us who need some company or support. We can download the app on either iPhones or Androids and Companiions will help us arrange a local assistant, for between £12-£25 an hour.
If we are receiving direct payments, it may be worth checking to see if some of the money can go towards paid companionship.
Carers' experiences of befriending
If you’re wondering if befriending is for you, take a look at what other carers have to say:
“I get a call once a fortnight which I’m always very pleased to get. It gives me a chance to share an update on anything and everything and it can really fill your spirits knowing somebody cares. They really have been a Godsend.”
“Sue, a befriending volunteer, at Action for Family Carers, calls me once a fortnight and we have a chat for about 20 minutes. She’s very nice and it’s lovely that she phones me up to see how I’m coping. I’m always pleased to hear her voice and I’m sure if there was something I needed she would do their best to help me. I’m very comfortable talking to her because I think she is very understanding.”
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About the author
Cara Japon is Adult Carer Lead at Action for Family Carers.
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