How befriending is bridging the gap of loneliness during lockdown

Suzanne Holland

People choose to befriend for a variety of reasons. For some it offers the chance to give something back to the community. For others it provides an opportunity to develop their communication skills or build a new relationship. Regardless of their motivation, their time and commitment make a huge difference to the lives of many older, isolated people.

Through Octavia’s telephone befriending service, members of the community offer conversation and companionship to older people through a weekly phone call.

After losing a friend earlier this year, trainee psychotherapist, Suzanne, 46, was keen to form a new friendship with an older person in need.

“I had a dear friend who died of dementia last year. We used to speak on a regular basis, and I miss our conversations greatly. I signed up to the befriending project because I wanted to keep making a positive contribution to the community. I’m also training to be a psychotherapist and I thought befriending would help me develop supportive skills, such as listening and empathy. 

Whilst the first conversation with a new befriendee can be daunting, Suzanne felt supported by Octavia throughout the sign-up process:

“The induction was really useful because it covered some challenging themes such as what to do if you think your befriendee is being exploited. It gave me confidence and a sense of what issues to look out for. We were given printed materials to take away and for the first few conversations I kept them in front of me like a prompt. This gave me reassurance that if something came up, I had the knowledge needed to be able to resolve the problem.”

Taking time out of your week to connect with an isolated person has far-reaching benefits that extend beyond a simple phone call. The weekly contact gives Suzanne’s befriendee, Joan, 82, a reason to remember and discuss her past - an exercise which has been proven to stave off dementia.[1]

“We often speak about travelling and time spent abroad, fantasising about where we would go if we won a million pounds. Joan is a brilliant storyteller and her tales have transported us to many a location – from golden beaches in Greece to the epic mountain ranges of Morocco. She has lived an incredibly interesting life and her stories never fail to amaze me.”

One of the key ingredients to a successful pairing is sharing a common interest. For Joan and Suzanne, a mutual passion for exercise laid down a firm foundation for their friendship:

“Joan and I share a love of all things exercise related. She has found it difficult not being able to get out and about during lockdown and that is something I can empathise with. For an active person, being confined to an indoor space can take its toll on your wellbeing – both physical and mental. We talk about the anxiety she is experiencing at the moment. Having someone who listens and understands seems to make a difference and I hope our conversations provide some relief during these difficult times.

When listening to Suzanne’s story, one message rings loud and clear – Joan has become a beacon of light in her befriender’s life.

“I’ve got more from the calls than I’d ever dreamed of. Joan is a fascinating person who is full of energy and warmth. Her dry wit, free spirit and flamboyant character make her easy to get on with and she has definitely brightened my lockdown experience. This is a two-way relationship and I’m very grateful to have her in my life.”

With face-to-face contact still limited for many, befriending services provide a crucial connection for those in need – a fact that Suzanne has become more aware of since joining the service.

“In this current climate, people are more physically isolated and the barriers for contact are higher than ever. While Joan is frustrated at being stuck in her flat, she often says how much she appreciates and enjoys our conversations and that proves to me how essential this service is.”