A Friend In Need

The High­lands can be a lonely place to live, but as Alex Cor­lett has been find­ing out, Dis­tance Be­frien­ders are try­ing to change that . . .

The People's Friend Special - - CONTENTS -

Meet the char­ity com­bat­ting lone­li­ness in the High­lands

EV­ERY YEAR thou­sands of tourists come to the Scot­tish High­lands to ex­pe­ri­ence the peace and soli­tude. But for some peo­ple who live there it can some­times be too big a place. Of the many peo­ple who call the High­lands home, a few find them­selves alone and iso­lated. Which is where Linda Kerr comes in!

“Dis­tance Be­friend­ing is part of Be­frien­ders High­land and it re­cruits, trains and sup­ports vol­un­teers to be­friend peo­ple who are lonely and iso­lated as a re­sult of men­tal ill health. It’s run through­out the High­land re­gion with the help of vol­un­teers who con­tact the ‘friends’ – which is what we call the in­di­vid­u­als we speak to.

“The vol­un­teer will ei­ther call by tele­phone, write to them or e-mail them. The idea is that this pro­vides on­go­ing sup­port and main­tains so­cial con­tact for those who feel lonely and iso­lated.”

Linda’s able to do the work from home, which af­fords her the flex­i­bil­ity to fit it in around other com­mit­ments.

“That’s the beauty of it. I can do it from my home, by e-mail, by tele­phone or by let­ter. So I can ac­tu­ally con­trib­ute to this.”

It’s amaz­ing what a life­line just the oc­ca­sional point of con­tact can be. Linda’s built up some long-term friend­ships over this time, and has kept in touch with folk for a num­ber of years.

“At the mo­ment I am in con­tact with one in­di­vid­ual whom I’ve been writ­ing to for seven and a half years. She is a woman who is now more or less house­bound, so is very iso­lated.

“I also do se­nior vol­un­teer work, sup­port­ing other vol­un­teers. I phone them pe­ri­od­i­cally to check that things are go­ing OK be­tween them and their friends.”

GET­TING in­volved in the ser­vice was an easy de­ci­sion. “Sev­eral years ago I read this lit­tle ar­ti­cle in a lo­cal mag­a­zine in Fort Wil­liam when I was vis­it­ing my mum. I thought it sounded amaz­ing. I knew I could con­trib­ute to it, so I ap­plied. I went through the train­ing, then I be­came a vol­un­teer.”

Folk who do so are then matched with peo­ple who seem a good fit.

“When they’re train­ing peo­ple up, they take into ac­count your in­ter­ests and try to pair you with folk of sim­i­lar in­ter­ests.”

The Be­frien­ders have been do­ing this work for a while.

“Be­frien­ders High­land have been around for about twenty years. Dis­tance Be­frien­ders has been around for about six or eight years and what made it pos­si­ble was the fund­ing from the Big Lottery Fund. With­out it, Dis­tance Be­friend­ing wouldn’t have got off the ground.

“One of our con­cerns now is, with the Big Lottery Fund hav­ing fin­ished, we’re ur­gently look­ing for other sources of funds to help us keep it go­ing.”

Be­frien­ders High­land is a face-to-face ser­vice, with peo­ple spend­ing time to­gether over a cup of cof­fee or at a cin­ema or café. Dis­tance Be­friend­ing is an off­shoot where it’s all done through phone, let­ter or e-mail. It makes it eas­ier to reach re­ally re­mote folk – plus it’s eas­ier for vol­un­teers to find the time for it.

The di­rect con­tact with its ben­e­fi­cia­ries means that the char­ity is al­ways very con­scious of how well it’s work­ing. Re­sponses from “friends” show how well the con­nec­tion is go­ing and make it easy to mon­i­tor. But even then they go the ex­tra mile to make sure the “friend” is get­ting best value.

“As a vol­un­teer I have reg­u­lar con­tact with the co-or­di­na­tors, the ac­tual work­ers in Dis­tance High­land Be­friend­ing. You have a trial pe­riod with a ‘friend’ and if that trial pe­riod goes well, there’s feed­back from both my­self and the ‘friend’, then you con­tinue on the longer term.

“Once that trial pe­riod is over they do a re­view ev­ery six months, so I’m con­tacted to say how I feel the friend­ship has pro­gressed and the ‘friend’ is like­wise con­tacted.

“The feed­back that I have got and ob­vi­ously all the other vol­un­teers have got has been very pos­i­tive. It’s reg­u­lar con­tact. It’s not ther­apy – it’s just two peo­ple con­nect­ing, help­ing at a time of need.

“We talk or write about all sorts of things. Some­times it’s to do with their men­tal health, other times it’s just light-hearted ban­ter – just a reg­u­lar friend­ship in that sense.”

And just like a friend­ship, it soon doesn’t feel like work.

“Oh, ab­so­lutely not! I would say over the years I’ve got as much out of it as my ‘friends’ have, be­cause they’re tak­ing an in­ter­est in me as much as I’m tak­ing an in­ter­est in them.

“It’s build­ing their con­fi­dence, keep­ing them in con­tact with the out­side world, which they might not feel com­fort­able do­ing on a face-to­face ba­sis.”

AS it’s an area that’s one of the least densely pop­u­lated in Europe, I won­der if vol­un­teers are ever tempted to en­cour­age peo­ple back into the High­lands’ few towns.

“No, not at all. They may be lonely and iso­lated, but they may have other fam­ily com­mit­ments or work com­mit­ments that keep them there. I think liv­ing in re­mote and ru­ral ar­eas can be test­ing for many of us, but it’s not nec­es­sar­ily very easy to up­root one­self and move into a town. And in some ways towns and cities can be even more iso­lat­ing.”

With the flex­i­bil­ity of the work, be­friend­ing at­tracts a wide va­ri­ety of peo­ple who feel able to con­trib­ute.

“The vol­un­teers come from all walks of life – I’m a trainer and li­brar­ian, there are oth­ers who are homemak­ers, brick­lay­ers, stu­dents, pilots and lawyers.”

And the Be­frien­ders have the op­por­tu­nity to get to­gether and sup­port each other as well – although this is ob­vi­ously not with­out its own dis­tance chal­lenges!

“Some­times we have a tele­phone con­fer­ence and there are other oc­ca­sions where we ac­tu­ally meet! When it was an an­niver­sary two sum­mers ago, we all – ‘friends’ and vol­un­teers – met in In­ver­ness for a cel­e­bra­tion of peo­ple who had been volunteering.

“That was a big cel­e­bra­tion and friends and vol­un­teers alike were there, so it was lovely to meet other peo­ple who you’d been con­vers­ing with over the phone or writ­ing to.”

Over re­cent years they’ve been able to start up some in­ter­est groups, too, giv­ing peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to use the net­work to chat about their hob­bies.

“There are stitch­ing groups and cre­ative writ­ing – both a book group and a po­etry group. That’s one of the ini­tia­tives we were able to do with the Lottery fund­ing. Some of the pieces that peo­ple have been writ­ing in the cre­ative writ­ing group are won­der­ful – and that’s both vol­un­teers and friends. Writ­ing is such a good way to ex­press what’s go­ing on in your body and mind. It’s a good way to get emo­tions out.” As we know well here in the “Friend”! The Be­frien­ders ser­vice is go­ing strong, but it is al­ways look­ing for new re­cruits.

“Over the last six years we’ve trained about one hun­dred and sixty vol­un­teers, and I think over the pe­riod we have been work­ing we have sup­ported around one hun­dred and eighty peo­ple at a dis­tance. It’s mak­ing a big dif­fer­ence.”

It’s great when ev­ery­one can get to­gether!

Twen­ti­eth birth­day cel­e­bra­tions.

Linda and the team at the Be­frien­ders Awards.

Thank you to the Na­tional Lottery Awards.

The vol­un­teers un­dergo de­men­tia train­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.