Harpenden Trust Befriending Service Soars, Forum Newsletter, September 2020

Harpenden Trust Sees Befriending Requests Increase Three-fold Since Lockdown

Life post COVID-19 looks very different, but over the past few months the Harpenden Trust has been at the heart of supporting the rapidly evolving needs of the community. Over that time, one of the key aspects of the Trust, while managing the Harpenden Cares Contact Centre, has been their befriending service. Since Lockdown, it has seen a three-fold increase in people seeking befriending support, showcasing the key role the Trust plays in supporting the community. Initially started in 2016 as a support for isolated people, the befriending service has steadily grown - but post-Lockdown demand has grown exponentially. At the start of Lockdown, the Trust team quickly set up a 17-strong socially distanced call centre and calls poured in. As well as advertising it through leaflets and GPs, the Trust also assisted in the setting up of a system of 220 street coordinators, who would check and liaise with their local area and connect those who needed it with help. Through the call centre, the team logged over 60 calls for befriending or social contact, which befrienders managed via telephone through Lockdown. The demographic of requests has also changed, with the number of men requesting the service jumping from 1% to 30%. Sally Arbuthnott, Team Leader, Befriending, explains: “We don’t see befriending as a temporary solution, we are connecting people for lasting friendships. It's not only those befriended who benefit, it offers the opportunity to meet people with years of experience, with different ideas and views on life. We work not only to support people, but match befrienders and befriendees through hobbies or mutual interests.”  Recent matches have included matching a pair with a love of knitting and crochet respectively, a fitness fanatic with a resident keen on walking and a WW2 veteran with a local who has a keen interest in that period.

While life has undoubtedly been challenging since Lockdown, a positive to emerge is that is has enabled many more of the community to be connected to support. Pat Ring, People Director, says, “Our befriending service has become more complex as it has brought to light many had issues that needed support beyond befriending. The befriending service enabled the team to pick up on these and connect them with help.” As well as befriending, the call centre received requests covering shopping, prescriptions, financial support and many ad hoc issues besides, which the team worked closely with The Salvation Army and Bethany Church to address. The experience also meant call handlers themselves formed strong bonds - 4 of the 17 call centre handlers have now gone on to become befrienders for those they talked regularly to through the call centre. With demand for befriending never being higher and several volunteers now supporting more than one befriendee, the Harpenden Trust is now urging the community to get in touch if they feel they could support a more vulnerable neighbour with regular contact. To connect with The Harpenden Trust about being a befriender, please contact [email protected]

14 September 2020

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