News & events

Restore’s befriending work in 2023

In 2023, the one-to-one befriending service enabled Restore to work towards the following outcomes for refugees and asylum seekers.

  • increased friendships and social connections with people from Birmingham;
  • improved communication skills in English, particularly conversational English;
  • increased understanding of and adaptation to life in Birmingham and the UK;
  • reduced loneliness and social isolation; and
  • improved wellbeing and mental health.

The fifth outcome listed, ‘improved wellbeing and mental health’, has always been a presumed benefit of befriending, but in 2023 we made that an explicit hoped for outcome and looked at ways that could be captured and measured.

Befriending is a 3-way relationship between Restore, a trained and DBS checked volunteer and a refugee or asylum seeker. Restore staff are available to offer advice and support. We seek formal and informal feedback through forms, surveys, conversations and a spidergram tool.

What is the impact of befriending?

Qualitative feedback shows how befriending has impacted the lives of refugees and asylum seekers and moved them towards those hoped for outcomes.

One befriendee recently wrote, “As I am a refugee, I live alone and am new in UK. Befriender service is very helpful, gave me a big opportunity to have a support emotionally, discussion about anything in the UK, help to improve my language and my life is getting better.”

Another wrote, “Befriender is good for learning more English. You can’t feel alone when you have befriender and my English is better than before.”

A third wrote, “She’s very kind and friendly. She makes me feel free to talk and be friendly so I cannot feel lonely. She even helped me with my school work, if I don’t understand correctly. I wish her healthy life so she can help more people who need her help.”

A befriendee wrote to their volunteer befriender expressing their gratitude, “I am very happy to have met you, you are like my mother and you always help and guide me, I am very grateful to you and I appreciate your kindness, God bless you.”

Befriending can be both an enriching and eye-opening experience for volunteers. One befriender wrote, “This is one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done. It is a real privilege to be alongside and get to know someone as they seek to build a new life for themselves in the UK. I am constantly impressed with his courage and determination. I don’t think I realised how many challenges face asylum seekers. Every time progress is made, there then seems to be another fresh set of problems and challenges to overcome.”

Another wrote, “I’ve loved being a befriender! I’ve gained a good friend. I’ve learned a lot about Syrian people and their culture and cuisine. I’ve learned how difficult life can be when your English isn’t too good, you don’t have much money to live on and the cost of living is so high!”

A third befriender wrote, “Facing even a minor crisis, like acute toothache, is frightening when you don’t know the language and don’t know the systems. It is a privilege to be able to come alongside and help a little in these crisis situations.”

Befriending can have a ripple effect which impacts the understanding of others and community cohesion, “I believe as a country, befriending should be part of every asylum seekers journey. My work colleagues have changed their attitudes and behaviours and understanding as a result of my interaction. Understanding better helps reduce racism and make us a better population.”

We also seek quantitative feedback. We surveyed befriendees in late 2023 about the impact of befriending, received 39 responses and the results were very encouraging and indicated that befriending does lead to the outcomes we aim for.

100% replied that meeting their befriender had helped them feel more confident.

97% replied that meeting their befriender had helped them feel less lonely.

94% replied that meeting their befriender had helped them feel more welcomed.

94% replied that meeting their befriender had helped them improve their English.

94% replied that meeting their befriender had helped them learn about Birmingham and life in the UK.

92% replied that meeting their befriender had helped them make friends with someone from Birmingham.

89% replied that meeting their befriender had helped their mental health and wellbeing.

79% replied that having a befriender would help other refugees and asylum seekers and 21% replied that having a befriender would maybe help other refugees and asylum seekers.

During 2023, our referral rates increased again, and we received 186 referrals compared to 162 referrals in 2022. Restore received referrals from over 30 agencies, referrals from current or former service users and self-referrals. We not only receive referrals of newly arrived asylum seekers but also resettled refugees since Birmingham City Council has pledged to receive 220 resettled Afghan refugees by the end of March 2024.

In 2023, we made 45 new befriending matches, which was slightly short of our annual target of 50 new matches. This was not due to a shortage of service users but due to fewer new volunteers. There were 64 participants across our 3 training courses in 2023, compared to 103 participants in 2022. Those who attended gave positive feedback which included, “It was all really interesting and informative. I especially liked hearing people’s stories, both of refugees and the situations they face and also of the volunteer and how befriending can really make an impact on individual lives.” And, “It’s been so useful – the kind of information that more people should get to hear so that we can start to challenge the really negative perceptions of refugees/asylum seekers that some people have. I’m already telling other people about what I’ve heard.” Lower attendance at training courses had the knock-on effect of fewer new applicants. We are aware that many organisations have struggled with volunteer numbers since the pandemic. We aim to turn that around in 2024, through advertising more widely than in the past. It also underlines the importance of volunteer retention, and we are grateful to experienced volunteers who embarked on new or additional befriending relationships in 2023.

At the 2023 year-end, there were 106 ongoing befriending matches of refugees or asylum seekers from 27 countries including Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Eritrea and El Salvador. This is in Iine with our target to support at least 100 ongoing befriending relationships.

In 2023, two volunteer filmmakers generously used their camera and editing skills to produce a 3.5 minute video that encapsulates Restore’s work of welcome and integration. It can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IQfrZuvl-Y

Restore will continue to work towards our vision for a society into which all refugees and asylum seekers are welcomed, valued and integrated.

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