Today marks the start of National Befriending Week (1st to 7th November 2018) which recognises the benefits of befriending and its role in tackling loneliness and social isolation. The theme this year is “Befriending Builds Communities”: the initiative will celebrate the work of befriending organisations throughout the country and raise awareness of befriending and the impact it has on individuals and communities.

So, for my blog this week, I am shining a light on befriending schemes that support people living with dementia, in the community and in care homes.

Befriending is a core offer of Alzheimer’s Society enabling people living with dementia to be supported to continue doing the things they love, make new friends and try new things. Through befriending, the opportunities for people with dementia are wide ranging, for example, playing a round of golf, listening to music, going to football matches, visiting a café, walking in the park. or simply having a cup of tea and chat at home. Learn more here.

Alzheimer’s Society’s ‘Side by Side’ service is a specific befriending project that supports the person with dementia to select their own volunteer befriender.  ‘Side by Side’ - a new service, currently available in 35 locations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - aims to reduce isolation and loneliness and ensure that people with dementia are not excluded from their local services and community activity. The approach is designed to empower people with dementia to develop their own solutions to meet their needs and wishes and identify and build up their personal talents, strengths and capabilities.

If you are interested in ‘Side by Side’ and would like to find out if a service is available in your locality, click here.

Local Age UK organisations offer befriending services and, in some areas, specific services for people living with dementia are available. One example is Age UK Camden: to be eligible for ‘Dementia Befriending’, people, aged 55+ and living in the borough, should have early concerns about their memory or be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or dementia and have limited or no support network from family/friends. Learn more here.

‘Embracing Age’ is a charity established by former nurse, Tina English, in 2015, based in Richmond-upon-Thames. Articulating a national vision for the charity, ‘Embracing Age’ says: “There are about 17,500 care homes in the UK and over 50,000 churches. We want to see every care home adopted by a local church, with trained volunteers spending time and building friendship with care home residents”.

Through their flagship project ‘Care Home Friends’, the charity recruits and trains volunteers to offer friendship and support older people and people with dementia in care homes. The support provided includes befriending, helping residents with digital skills, reading aloud, accompanying people on walks and playing board games.

‘Embracing Age’ is looking to replicate this project nationally and is keen to hear from local churches interested in starting a care home project. Learn more here.

‘Befriending Networks’ is an umbrella body providing research information, training and advice for member organisations (local befriending services). Benefits of membership include networking events, access to research and relevant publications, training opportunities and an evaluation toolkit, which guides services through a recommended evaluation process to demonstrate impact.

The ‘Befriending Networks’ website features a very helpful article which explains what befriending is: “Everyone needs other people, but not everyone has someone. For people who become isolated because of ill health, disability or social disadvantage, being matched with a befriender often fills a big gap”.

You can read the full article here.

‘Befriending’ has been the backbone of the voluntary sector for decades. Whether formally described as ‘befriending’, or offered through informal networks in local communities, ‘being friendly’ with people is at the heart of positive relationship-building, which everyone has experienced, and everyone understands.

If you are a volunteer befriender, offering one-to-one support for a family affected by dementia, or in a group setting, such as a dementia café or activity group, please get in touch to share your story.

I would also be interested in hearing from you if you have had a positive experience with a volunteer befriender.

You can contact me by email at: askbarbara@unforgettable.org

I would love to hear your stories and, with your permission, share information with others in the Unforgettable community.

People from all walks of life and all ages volunteer and, for some, it can help them meet new friends, learn new skills, find a new career and feel valued.

To find out more about volunteering, visit the national volunteering website www.do-it.org.uk and search for opportunities using your postcode.