Sheffield pensioner praises ‘support system’ offered by befriending service during pandemic

A pensioner has praised the “support system” she has received from a befriending service offered by Age Better in Sheffield to socially isolated and lonely older people through the pandemic.

Tuesday, 2nd February 2021, 4:45 pm

Janet Green, aged 77, has lived alone since the death of her second husband in 1991 and, although originally from Attercliffe, she now resides in Dore where she can be close to family.

Since last March, the retired clerical worker has found solace in her regular phone calls with Peter Conlan, a volunteer coordinator for the South Yorkshire Housing Association who works for the Telephone Befriending Service run by Age Better in Sheffield.

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Janet Green, from Totley, who has found phone calls from Age Better have helped her mentally during lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic

Janet, whose health issues mean she has to use a wheelchair, says the service has been like a “support system” and has allowed her to speak openly about her struggles – often at times more than speaking with a counsellor.

She said: “Friending is for close friends and you can tell them little bits, befriending is the support system. I haven’t been afraid to say things to Peter or when I had a counsellor, who I had for a year.

"With Peter from Age Better, it’s seemed like a distant thing so I can tell him more and we are like good friends now, even though he is a professional he seems like a friend.”

Janet explained how her mental health began to detoriate in 2016 after the death of her nephew and only got worse when she lost another five close friends and family members in the three years that followed, the most recent being her older sister in 2019.

The Star is launching a Buddy Up! campaign to encourage more people to sign up as befrienders and bring vital support to isolated older people in the city.

She felt she couldn’t talk to her friends as they saw her as “superwoman” but soon realised it was OK to ask for professional help – speaking to counsellors and representatives from charities and organisations such as St Luke’s, Mind and now Age Better in Sheffield.

"The pandemic doesn’t allow you to do normal things like grieving,” Janet said. “I was still grieving for the other five that I’d lost and my sister. That gave me a different viewpoint on grieving as I was grieving the loss of freedom too.

"Because my sister was much older than me I’m like the older sister to the children she had. I’ve got family, they’re there for me, but because I’m the oldest I don’t want to rely on them too much.”

She added: "Age Better phoned me at the beginning of the pandemic. I was still grieving for my sister and was a bit wobbly but I was completely stunned to hear from Peter and he said South Yorkshire Housing Association had given some money towards my consultation.

"Talking to Peter for about half an hour, I thought it was wonderful. He said would I mind if he rang again and I agreed as something just clicked.”

Janet praised the befriending service and Peter who has helped her stay positive throughout the pandemic.

"It’s the cleverness of befriending, it’s the wording they use you end up thinking I can trust this person, I can tell them anything,” she added.

"I come out of conversations with Peter feeling like the world is OK. Something might knock me down again but I’m back up once I speak to him.”

For more information on the service contact Age Better in Sheffield.

The Star has launched a new Buddy Up! Campaign calling on more people to sign up as volunteers to help provide befriending services to isolated people. For more information on that, see our article here.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.