Telephone befriender says service is ‘fundamental’ to support older people in Sheffield

While we’re unable to meet up in person, a simple telephone can make the world of difference with the need for human reassurance more than ever due to current pandemic.

Saturday, 6th February 2021, 12:30 pm

Phone calls have somewhat gone out of fashion in recent years but the Covid-19 crisis has shown that many need this type of interaction.

And, this form of communication is proving to be a vital lifeline for hundreds of older people across Sheffield who are receiving weekly calls through befriending services.

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Peter Conlan, Volunteer Development Coordinator at South Yorkshire Housing Association, has been offering his ear to around six lonely or isolated people throughout the pandemic

Peter Conlan is a Volunteer Development Co-ordinator at South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA) – which helps lead Age Better in Sheffield, a project to tackle loneliness and isolation among people over 50 – and is also one of a growing number of befrienders who are helping those who were feeling cut off as a result of the pandemic.

Age Better in Sheffield began its telephone befriending service when the first lockdown hit, as Peter explained.

"Most people were thankful for the call and were amazed there were people out there who would just phone up and say would you like to chat,” he said.

Peter is unlike some befrienders, who are often volunteers offering their free time for a chat to the city’s elderly residents.

Dozens of older people in Sheffield are already being supported by befriending services but there is a shortage of volunteers to conduct these calls

Nonetheless, he has now forged friendships with six people he talks to on a regular basis – offering, in some cases, that lift that is needed during the dark days.

Every befriending pair is, of course, different and the conversations are shaped by the personalities and circumstances of those on either end of the phone.

Peter said: “It's not about helping, it’s about both of us having an open ended conversation. What the pandemic has shown is that the need is there.

The Star has launched the Buddy Up! campaign to encourage more people to sign up to become befrienders and provide vital support to lonely or isolated people in the city.

"From a personal point of view I think we are very short on befriending services in Sheffield. South Yorkshire Housing Association has one and I think is planning to expand it, but it has made me realise that it’s something that needs to be built into the infrastructure of the city.

"We are supposedly an age friendly city but we need to think about these things which are very fundamental.”

Recently Sheffield Churches Council for Community Care (SCCCC), which also runs a befriending service, revealed there were almost 100 people on its waiting list for telephone support but not enough buddies to help them.

The Star has now launched the ‘Buddy Up!’ campaign as it calls on the people of Sheffield to offer their spare time to give lonely and isolated older people the friendship and belonging they crave through befriending services such as those mentioned.

Peter is due to leave his role with SYHA at the end of this month but says his new friendships will continue.

He added: “I think with lockdown it’s given a lot of people the time to reevaluate their own time and that’s why I think in terms of volunteering it is a great opportunity now for Sheffield to jump on that bandwagon, to say you do know you can cope without spending all day long in front of the television or going to the pub.

"There is time you can spare, even just half an hour a week, to talk to somebody.”

If you want to take part in the ‘Buddy Up!’ campaign email [email protected]

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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.