Why I joined b:friend by Jenny

In October this year, I left my job as a Support Worker for Adults with learning disabilities and began working for the b:friend charity. I had worked in the learning disability sector for 16 years and was looking for a new challenge. I found it by joining the b:friend team in tackling the massive issue of loneliness and social isolation faced by older people in the Dearne.

These last few months have been a real eye-opener for me. I am now working in an area of the country with people who are some of the most ‘at risk’ of social isolation. In fact, older neighbors in the Thurnscoe ward find themselves in the highest 0.09% nationally. This is a huge problem and one that isn’t going to go away with figures due to keep rising.

As a younger person, I can honestly say I never really stopped to think about how lonely growing older can be. How being at home, alone, all day, every day can have such a negative impact on your health and well being. How studies have proven that it can often lead to depression and even the early onset of dementia. But we can’t escape the passing of time. What we can do is keep our minds and our bodies active. We can build communities, we can connect with other people outside of our usual social circles. And this is where my role of Befriending officer for the Dearne comes in.

So, in order to tackle this problem of loneliness and social isolation we have a two-step approach.

The first step is running 2 weekly Social Clubs in the Dearne. I hold 1 in Thurnscoe and 1 in Bolton-upon-Dearne. We have guest speakers, arts and crafts, singing and dancing along with a quiz. And there’s always tea, coffee, and biscuits a plenty. Each session is designed to be mentally or physically stimulating – and in some cases both! It’s an opportunity to meet new people, make new friends, experience new things – just ask our Bolton group about the no-bake gingerbread! – and above all else have fun!

The second step is more personal and unique. I facilitate 1:1 befriending between older neighbors in the Dearne and a volunteer in their area who commits to visiting once a week, for an hour, for a cuppa and chat. It really is that simple. For an Older Neighbour who may not see someone for an entire week, these weekly visits are a lifeline. I have paired a 24-year-old with a 76-year-old who get on like a house on fire, a 36-year-old with an 86 year old who likes to go out shopping together. I have learned over the course of the last 3 months that age truly is just a number. That the people I see on a weekly basis who have no one to talk to and nothing to do are the hidden diamonds of our communities. They have stories to share and insights to give. They are some of the funniest people I have met! They are kind, compassionate and generous. They are people, just like us, they just have a few more miles on the clock than we do.

Befriending is so easy. We think nothing of spending an hour looking at our phones so why not spend an hour with an actual person? You can make a real difference to someones whole life by giving up an hour of your week. And who knows? You might even find yourself a new friend too.