Loneliness. It’s an uncomfortable word, isn’t it? Many of us might not admit to feeling lonely, and whilst the UK has come on leaps and bounds with talking about mental health, it still isn’t an easy task. In May we launched our Befriending Service in response to the loneliness being recorded by our team speaking to referred clients. Since then we’ve made it our job to gently excavate and discover whether the individuals who use our service are experiencing loneliness. If they are, and if they would like to, they are then Befriended. Here’s what our Befriending Service looks like and how it came about.
If you asked us at the beginning of the year about whether we would still be largely affected by COVID-19, we probably would have told you to be more positive, and that things will get better ahead. Though we made provisions, one being the introduction of our Emergency Model to keep up with the influx of the inevitable new cases we were to see, this crisis has caused another epidemic of its own – loneliness.
The heavy restrictions enforced by the government earlier on this year, coupled with the virus itself, has meant that people of all ages are feeling more isolated than ever. And the virus has devastated lives of all ages. School kids said goodbye to their peers back in March, not knowing when they would see them again. The elderly left alone without visits from family, single people isolated alone in homes across the country and families left to cope alone with very difficult times.
It’s altered the very fabric of our society – we’ve embraced a new normal.
What this has meant for a lot of us is a shift in what we have always perceived as normal life. For once, isolating, working from home and not seeing friends is exactly what we are supposed to do. The knock-on effect however has been astronomical, and this has been extremely prevalent through the eyes of the charity. We found that from almost the very beginning of the breakout, people would dial in for support with issues they were now faced with as a result of the virus, but they also wanted to stay on the line for a talk.
Our job went from finding out about why the individual was in crisis and tackling the root cause of their problem to also being a friend. Listening for longer. Making people feel less alone. We could hear the excitement in their voices when the conversation went past providing the initial advice and support. Even if it was for 5 or 10 minutes, people just wanted to be heard. More often than not, we were the only voices they would hear.
For one of our volunteers, they found it heartbreaking knowing more could potentially be done yet not having the means to, due to the large increase in demand over the last few months:
“It was difficult as a triage volunteer or someone doing case work, knowing there was an emotional need that wasn’t being met – purely because of time.”
– Volunteer, Team First Love
With a time-poor team, given the 925% increase in demand on our service, we realisied something needed to be done to ensure these individuals were given the extra phone time they craved. How could we further support those that are feeling lonely and wanted to speak?
We needed to make a change so that we could see change. With social distancing measures in place until at least the end of the year, feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation would only be heightened, realistically for the foreseeable future. We saw a need for an extension of our work. It goes beyond supporting people out of crisis and with welfare advice. What people need is someone to check in. See how they are. They need someone to ask how their day is going and what they’ve been thinking.
They need someone to be human.
We were essentially taking the place of carers and family and this meant we needed to dedicate real time to that. As a result, we launched the Befriending Service.
How it works
When people are referred, we set up an initial phone call to assess their situation, in an effort to start resolving their issues. Whilst triaging them, the conversation has always gone down the route of finding out how the person is. “How are you?”, “What did you get up to on the weekend?”, “How are your little ones doing?”, “How are you coping during this crisis?”, and “How are you really doing?” are all questions that can be heard around the office. We ask questions we would like to be asked ourselves – but surface-level questions invite surface-level answers. So we always take the time to go deeper. If we feel there is a need to dig a bit deeper, or that a person would benefit from being be-friended, we offer them that service. If they accept, they join a roster of people that members of the team call on a weekly basis for a chat, and we stay on the phone for however long is needed. Sometimes five minutes, sometimes fifty.
We’ve had a really good time with it so far.
Over night Befriending became an in demand service, headed up by our volunteer Sue. Since 17th May, our volunteer Sue has Befriended a total of 112 individuals. At the peak of demand, we were supporting befriending 81 individuals at one time and had a waiting list.
We currently have 48 active clients, but expect this to increase again over the coming months as Government restrictions will see loneliness rise once again.
Prior to COVID-19, many of these people would never have needed a Befriended Service. The pandemic made this a crucial, necessary development for us.
“More than ever, I truly feel like I am making a difference. When I make a call to a regular and they pick up the phone and realise it’s me, I hear the smile in their voice. I know I’ve helped make their day. And they don’t realise it, but they’ve made my year.”
– Member of Team First Love
We need to expand our Befriending Service to ensure that the winter months are more manageable for people experiencing loneliness. This Christmas is likely to be one of the most difficult yet for the individuals we support. We are expanding our Befriending Service over the next few months as a key part of our offering. If you would like to support us, please donate to help us expand this service. You can do so here.
A happy ending to this sad story, but we’re always of the opinion that we could be doing more. And whilst this is a step in the right direction, we’re not finished yet. First Love Foundation will keep seeing a need, and responding to it, as our service is about way more than meeting targets and trying to solve issues that are surface level. We will always stay compassionate and grounded.
It’s about people at the end of the day. So let’s be people.
If you would like to help support us as the demand for our service increases, please consider donating to us regularly by clicking here, or the purple ‘Donate’ button in the top right-hand corner of the screen. You’re helping us transform lives.