Let me tell you first about Befriending. The Alzheimer Society’s Befriending Service in partnership with Cookstown and Magherafelt Volunteer Centre aims to reduce social isolation of older people living with dementia through developing a meaningful befriending relationship. Befrienders are volunteers who visit people with dementia in their homes at least once a week for one or two hours or at a friendship group. Visits usually aim at developing meaningful relationships through conversation and activities such as working on a life book, reminiscing or helping them do something they enjoy. This is a most rewarding post which really enriches the lives of older people living with dementia.
The service has a diverse team of volunteer befrienders who vary in age, gender and background. Befriending matches are based on personality and common ground between befriender and service user. Volunteers take part in the service for a variety of reasons which include: enthusiasm to empower socially isolated individuals; an interest to listen and learn first-hand from the vast experiences of older people who have lived colourful lives; or a desire to put something back into the community. Some volunteers have been previous carers of a person with dementia; using this opportunity to give back to the society and to use their personal experience to help others.
The very fact that our befrienders are volunteers makes our service users feel extremely valued, as opposed to a paid worker visiting; as a volunteer is choosing to spend time with them, rather than being under a professional or family obligation to do so. Qualities that make someone an excellent befriender are; an understanding of the challenges that face a person living with dementia, a calm considerate nature, a time commitment to the role, an enthusiasm to want to make a difference. All volunteers have an enhanced disclosure check completed and appropriate training before the matching process begins.
Every day in this job differs; and the social interaction with the local community is what I love so much about it! We are not always sitting behind a computer screen; from visiting a service user in their home in the morning to manning an information stand at an event in the afternoon is all part of the awareness raising aspect of the role. Our service users and I are extremely excited for our plans in the coming months, including our themed days for St Valentines, St Patrick’s and Easter with some lively local entertainment acts already signed up!
In the short time that I have been Befriending Manager for Mid-Ulster I have developed many great links and I hope this will continue. If anyone is keen to learn more about volunteering opportunities or make a referral to the service I would be more than happy to have a chat; you can get me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 077 0347 0746.