How people’s lives in Sheffield are being transformed through charity’s befriending scheme

A charity which aims to tackle loneliness and isolation is continuing to help people in Sheffield build connections and relationships, despite the struggles that the pandemic has brought.

Friday, 23rd July 2021, 12:13 pm
Updated Friday, 23rd July 2021, 12:15 pm

South Yorkshire-based charity, b:friend, serves communities across the county, providing weekly befriending activities to those who may be feeling lonely and isolated, with the help of volunteers.

Throughout lockdown, the charity, like many others, had to adapt its ways of working but it has continued to keep people connected via phone calls and video chats.

Founder of b:friend, Mike Niles, said: “The last 18 months has been a unique struggle for each of us and, as we begin to restructure our lives, it's crucial we don't leave people behind. At a time of disconnection bringing people together in our communities has never been so important.

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26-year-old Hayley, a b:friend volunteer, has been paired with 73-year-old Malc, a retired former London bus driver.

“We witness befriending transforming people's lives, every day. When someone pops in for a cuppa, or takes time to phone for a chat, it invigorates wellbeing for that older neighbour.”

B:friend has been awarded almost £350,000 of National Lottery funding for its befriending scheme, which has positively benefited many people in the region.

Hayley, aged 26 and a b:friend volunteer, has been paired with 73-year-old Malc, a retired former London bus driver.

Two years ago, Hayley had just moved to Sheffield and wanted to embed herself into the local community, whilst Malc had been referred to the charity.

Malc said: “I would absolutely recommend b:friend to anybody, especially if you’re on your own and you’ve not got family near, because I haven’t; my son lives in north Devon, so that’s a way.”

He added: “It’s like having your own family to talk to you. [It’s] one of the best things that’s ever happened to me at this time of my life... So yeah, she’s a life saver, so is b:friend, absolutely. I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for them.”

Throughout lockdown, Malc and Hayley would share twice-weekly chats on the phone, often talking for hours.

As restrictions lifted, the pair were recently able to meet in person for the first time, where Malc cooked Hayley a Sunday roast.

It was a day both said they “will never forget”.

Hayley told how Malc was initially meant to be paired with another volunteer but after an initial 20 minute consultation turned into a 2 hour and 45 minute conversation, she decided she would like to pair up with Malc herself.

She said: “We just couldn’t shut up, could we?”

B:friend has recruited over 500 new volunteers since March 2020.

It has also delivered just shy of 1,500 ‘social packs’ to isolating older neighbours, containing cards from school children, activities, games, treats, pen-pal letters, mixtape CDs, and more.

Funding from the National Lottery means that the charity is able to help more isolated people in South Yorkshire for at least the next three years.

Almost £700 million of National Lottery funding has been distributed to charities working to address loneliness and social isolation over the past five years.

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