One of our volunteer befrienders, Jennifer Learmonth, recently spoke at our AGM to share her experience of being a volunteer befriender. Here's what she said:
"I began befriending just over a year ago. I had worked for a private company previously where the focus on money and selling had driven me to want to fulfil my dream of working in a more person focused job. Seeing the opportunity to become a volunteer befriender and get to know someone isolated by their disability seemed like the ideal chance to challenge myself and achieve the more rewarding post I was after.
I am now glad to say that befriending has achieved exactly that, when I visit my befriendee once a week and feel a sense of reward every time."
"I aim to meet my befriendee for two hours every week. The days vary depending on when we are both available which makes our friendship flexible and laid back. We discuss the week before what we would like to do when I next visit, although we usually just pop out for a cup of tea and a chat.
It is these simple things that my befriendee cannot do alone, which means she constantly lets me know how grateful she is that I make the effort to come and visit.
Our friendship is very positive and happy, and we have got to know about different aspects and pastimes about each other through our befriending relationship. My befriendee has had an amazing life of being a professional dance teacher, and keen bowler – my knowledge of these two things has increased dramatically over our friendship!
It is so nice to know someone with a complete blank canvas, there is always lots to talk about although ECAS also has conversation starters you can borrow like quiz games and dvds to watch."
Training and Support
"A befriending relationship is inevitably different to normal friendships; there is a lot to know about boundaries and preparation so you can be as prepared and knowledgeable as possible to assist your befriendee.
I have support and supervision meetings every 6 months where I can let Ecas know about any potential worries I would like to flag up, and generally just to check in with each other that everything is going ok. This also gives Ecas the opportunity to feedback to me comments from my befriendee.
I have also had fantastic First Aid training, and wheelchair training up at the Astley Ainslie SMART centre. All of these courses were arranged by Ecas after my S&S, and the skills I have learnt make me a more confident befriender. They are incredibly valuable to my befriending relationship although also transferable to all aspects of my life, particularly working in Norton Park.
Ecas also runs great volunteer focus groups for befrienders, which are a great opportunity to meet other befrienders who may have gone through similar challenges as you.
As my befriendee wasn't confident leaving the house when we first met, I found the task of convincing her to come out with me quite daunting. The focus groups gave me a great boost as I met many befrienders who had this same challenge and had overcome it. We are also treated to lunch during the focus groups which adds to the rewards of being a volunteer befriender!"
My Further Development
"I feel that over the last year of getting to know my befriendee I have become a lot more confident, not only in our friendship but also in myself to apply these skills to other things. My befriending relationship reminded me I wanted to work with people, and I have just completed my first year at University doing a degree in Health and Social care.
I have also started a fantastic sessional job with Edinburgh Young Carers, something that I probably wouldn't have applied to if I didn't have the people skills and confidence I have found with befriending. I find the whole experience very rewarding and would highly recommend it to anyone that wants to feel like they are making a difference to someone's life."