Restore’s biggest challenge was – surprise, surprise – lock down! How could an organisation focused on face-to-face befriending adapt?
At a Connection Coalition webinar on loneliness we heard a really stark statement “the health impact of loneliness has been found to be comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, equal to a 26 per cent increase in the likelihood of mortality”. That underlined the importance of maintaining and building supportive relationships at this time of increased isolation for many.
We asked our volunteers to move from face-to-face to remote befriending, contacting their befriendee using WhatsApp video calls. Video calls have been a revelation for us. Having that visual connection is amazing and it aids communication particularly with those who have limited English. We also knew other refugees and asylum seekers who were on their own, without any other family members. As they would benefit from a befriender, we started a temporary remote befriending scheme where we invited existing volunteers to take on additional befriendees during lockdown and video call them once a week. We also matched new volunteers from our February training course.
We launched the Temporary Remote befriending scheme on 1 April and since then have made 54 new befriending relationships, giving a total of 67 new matches in 2020. Many of those temporary matches have continued and become longer term matches. At the end of 2020, we had 117 ongoing befriending matches from 2020 and earlier years.
What is the impact of befriending?
One refugee recently wrote, “I thought that protection can be provided on legal and physical grounds. However, I realised that Restore provide another valuable form of protection which is the spiritual one. Restore embraced me and made my isolated lonely life, viable and sociable. I felt that Restore saved me from trauma and found my a befriender who was more than a friend but an angel, guard, and brother.”
One beneficiary, who was finding lockdown challenging due to health issues said, “I’m waiting for Tuesday every week! It’s good when I speak with my befriender.” An asylum seeker with low level mental health issues said after a call “Even now I feel a lot better because you talked to me, thank you so much!”
Befriending also impacts the volunteer, “Being a befriender helps me to enjoy the diversity of Birmingham, to see life from another perspective and to feel that I am playing a tiny part in making my city more welcoming.”
And it’s been great to hear of some of the creative things that are possible via video call. One befriender started to teach the asylum seeker he supports to play chess and then they went on to play mancala as they found it simpler. Another befriender who discovered that video calls were difficult due to the limited English of the refugee, tried cooking via WhatsApp. The refugee is teaching the volunteer to cook food from her country! In the process, the refugee is also learning words for ingredients and cooking processes in English and growing in confidence.
We adapted our training course for Zoom and 60 people attended our October course, which is our highest attendance ever. Afterwards 28 applied to befriend and have been progressing through the application process. We are looking forward to matching them in 2021.
To sign up for our next befriender training course or for more information about befriending, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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