Celebrating Friendship Volunteers

Author's position
Ready Friends Coordinator
Primary interest
Volunteering

Fifty volunteers and support staff from twenty of Reading’s community groups enjoyed an evening of celebration, sharing and learning on 1 November.

The Crowne Plaza by Caversham Bridge hosted the first-of-its-kind event, which brought together volunteers who are helping local people facing loneliness and social isolation, all year round.  The purpose of the evening was to celebrate the fantastic and essential contribution that volunteers make to the lives of people who are among the most vulnerable in our town, and hear about the positive impact they have.  Volunteer roles included befrienders, buddies, community drivers, lunch and social club organisers, homeless hostel residents’ support and mental health group support volunteers.

Councillor Rachel Eden, keynote speaker, highlighted the serious impact that loneliness and social isolation can have on anyone in our community and referred to Jo Cox, MP who, before her murder in 2016, campaigned tirelessly for action on this issue and stressed that “loneliness doesn’t discriminate”.

During a chatshow session, volunteers and the people they support spoke about the difference it makes to their daily lives and what it’s like to volunteer.  Kevin Hood, a volunteer for Depression Expression which supports people with mental health support needs, reflecting on his volunteering role said “After every support session I go home with my wallet full – not with money, but with inspiration, warmth and just great feelings.”

The event was also a chance to meet volunteers in other roles, hearing about the different kinds of activity available to help reduce loneliness and social isolation – and dates were fixed-up on the night between groups to find out more about each other and explore opportunities for working together.

The event is part of a new partnership initiative called the Friendship Volunteering Project, which is being run by a group of local community organisations comprising Age UK Berkshire, Age UK Reading, Engage Befriending, Catalyst Housing, Reading Borough Council’s Neighbourhood Team and Reading Voluntary Action’s Ready Friends project.  The Friendship Volunteering Project is being funded by these community organisations, in partnership with donations and support from Berkshire Community Foundation, The Earley Charity, Reading Lions and the Crowne Plaza.

Loneliness and social isolation are increasing, and cut across all communities in Reading.  It’s getting harder for local community groups and charities to recruit volunteers to take action in a variety of roles.  A greater diversity is needed in the pool of people willing to become friendship volunteers – the communities they represent and the times when they can volunteer.

A volunteer videographer took footage from the event, including interviews with individual volunteers, that will be used in a film to raise awareness and interest in volunteering to reduce loneliness and social isolation.  The film will be launched next year and will be available for any community group in Reading to use in their volunteer recruitment campaigns.

Councillor Rose Williams closed the programme with her stories of being a volunteer over many years in Reading.  The evening ended with thank you cards for every volunteer that each had another ‘pass-it-on’ card inside to give to someone they think would make a great friendship volunteer, and a goody bag containing information resources, pens, chocolates and some delicious cookies!

Further information

Anyone interested in volunteering in a friendship role can find the latest volunteering opportunities from Reading Voluntary Action.

  • Website: rva.org.uk/volunteering/
  • Phone:  0118 937 2273
  • Email: info@rva.org.uk
  • Drop-in to book an appointment (Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays): Community Place, 3rd Floor of Reading Central library, Abbey Square, Reading RG1 3BQ