Group’s ‘uphill struggle’ to find befriending scheme volunteers in Bury St Edmunds

Terri Hardy, befriending coordinator at The Voluntary Network
Terri Hardy, befriending coordinator at The Voluntary Network
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A scheme that helps isolated people find someone to talk to is struggling to find volunteers in Bury St Edmunds.

About 18 months ago, The Voluntary Network began working in partnership with Age UK Suffolk to expand its befriending service from the Newmarket and Forest Heath areas into West Suffolk.

But appeals for volunteers have gone unanswered and there are currently 12 people ‘in need’ in the town.

Befriending coordinator Terri Hardy said: “We’ve been really successful in Newmarket and, whenever we put an appeal out for volunteers, they all come running and we don’t have an issue. But we’ve been working, probably since the beginning of the year, trying to get volunteers in Bury and it’s been an uphill struggle.”

Joyce Hadlow, 86, from Bury, is waiting to be paired with a volunteer. She has twice been widowed and has been referred to the scheme for companionship.

She said: “Days for someone who can’t get out very far and can’t see many people are lonely. If you’ve got nothing to do, time drags. If you’ve got something to do to keep you busy, time goes fast.”

Nelson Heart, 86, from Lakenheath, has been receiving visits from his volunteer, Paul Cook, for around two years.

He said: “Sometimes I don’t see anybody for about three, perhaps four days. It’s nice to think somebody’s coming, especially when I’ve been on my own.”

He added: “I go and do a bit of shopping but all you say is thank you. It’s not like sitting and talking to somebody.”

Mr Cook, 65, from Mildenhall, joined the scheme after retiring and has enjoyed the time with his ‘good friend’ Mr Heart so much that he recently began befriending another.

He said: “I just don’t want them left out of a limb on their own, and I get a great deal out of it. A biscuit, a cup of tea and a chat, and you know you’ve made their day.”

As well as combating loneliness, the service offers peace of mind to families living away from loved ones.

Ian Russell, whose 94-year-old mother lives in the Forest Heath area, said: “With us living so far away it’s quite hard to get down there and it’s nice to know somebody’s just popping in to see her.

“It’s great for us and I know mum enjoys it. She’ll go and get a cake from the shop - it gives her something to do.”

Encouraging others to sign up, Mr Cook said: “I really look forward to going to see them. I get a great deal of satisfaction out of it - it’s very rewarding.”

The befriending service aims to offer supportive, reliable relationships through volunteer befrienders to people who would otherwise be socially isolated.

Volunteers are asked to commit one hour a week to a home visit and are paid expenses.

This week (November 2-9) is the first ever National Befriending Week. To get involved, email terri@thevoluntarynetwork.org