Ready Friends Afternoon Tea serves up information on befriending

Philippa Good
Primary interest

Advice and information was offered alongside tea and cake at an event held to promote volunteer befriending earlier this month.

The drop-in event, which took place on Tuesday 7 June at Reading Central Library, was organised by the Ready Friends project. For members of the public who may be interested in becoming a befriender, it was a chance to find out more in a friendly and informal environment. Attended by representatives from a variety of local charities – among them Age UK Berkshire, Age UK Reading, Engage Befriending, Home-Start, Sue Ryder, Enrych Berkshire, and the Alzheimer’s Society – the afternoon offered the opportunity for potential befrienders to chat face to face with the organisations involved and get answers to questions such as: ‘What befriending opportunities are available?’, What are the benefits of befriending’ and ‘What training and support is available to befrienders?’.

Equally important was the opportunity to chat with existing befrienders and hear first-hand experiences of befriending. Dorothy Dugdale, a volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Society, spoke to attendees about the people she has befriended:

“I’m very much out and about, I go for a drive with them, take them for a drive and it works both ways really. I have a greater understanding [of Alzheimers] and everyone is an individual with it, so that’s what makes it interesting. It’s one–two hours you spend with them a week, to suit both you and your client … They give you training so you really understand what your clients will be like. You always have the support of the team. You never feel like you’re on your own and they look after you really well.”

For the charity representatives the event provided an opportunity to promote the work of their respective organisations, as well as the chance to network, and share ideas and best practice. Speaking about the importance of such events for both organisations involved in befriending and potential befrienders, John Evans, Befriending Co-ordinator at Age UK Reading said:

“You don’t usually get the opportunity to talk face to face, it’s usually via email, but here you can explain it in more depth, and if it’s not for them, that’s fine – they can pick that up quicker face to face … I think it’s a good thing for the different befriending groups to meet each other, you can share knowledge, practice and problems that you’ve had. Sometimes you’ll have a problem that you don’t think anyone has experienced, but when you get together someone will say, ‘Oh I’ve had that’ or ‘Have you tried this?’.”

Marlene Partington, Regional Co-ordinator at Engage Befriending, added:

“It’s an opportunity to profile Engage Befriending so that other organisations know what we are doing, and hopefully we can work together, we can signpost clients to one another … I think it’s good for a volunteer – or potential volunteer – to find out what is possible, to find out what services you can be involved in.”

All of the organisations that attended provide training and support for their befrienders, but what qualities do organisations look for in a volunteer befriender? Being a good listener, sociable, non-judgemental, and open to different personalities were all qualities cited by those present.

And finally, what do the befrienders themselves get out of the role? Fiona Hill, a befriender with the Alzheimer’s Society said:

“Oh I really enjoy it, there’s no two ways around it, it’s great fun. They are really lovely people who’ve got really interesting things to talk about … I’d definitely say give it a go, it’s a really satisfying thing to do, it’s enjoyable and you make some new friends.”

The event was organised to mark Volunteers’ Week, an annual event which aims to celebrate the contribution made by volunteers worldwide.