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Befrienders Highland seeks volunteers to help tackle loneliness and social isolation following sharp rise in referrals during coronavirus pandemic

By Staff Reporter

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Befriending co-ordinator Allana Islei and senior co-ordinator Carol Summers.
Befriending co-ordinator Allana Islei and senior co-ordinator Carol Summers.

An organisation working to tackle loneliness and social isolation in the Highlands has issued an appeal for volunteers following a sharp rise in referrals during the coronavirus pandemic.

Befrienders Highlands has recorded a 28 per cent increase in people being referred to its services.

It currently has 47 people waiting to be matched with a befriender compared to 19 on the waiting list this time last year.

The charity provides a lifeline to people struggling with their mental health or who have memory difficulties or dementia and also offers a carers’ service.

Senior co-ordinator Carol Summers said it currently has 124 matches in place whereas last year it was 104.

"Since lockdown, we have noticed a large increase in referrals to all services," she said.

"The pandemic has been difficult and many people have struggled with their mental health, loneliness or isolation.

"Also, on the memory and carers service, many carers we support have struggled with little or no support these past 15 months or so and we find people with memory loss have declined due to lack of activities and social contact."

Mrs Summers said even if people could spare just 30 minutes a week, it would make a huge difference.

Referrals to the organisation come from a variety of sources including GPs, community psychiatric nurses, social workers and family members.

Befriending is provided in various ways including telephone, letter, email and walking groups while a recent development is a befriending service via gaming platforms.

"It can make a massive difference to someone’s life," Mrs Summers said.

"I think it is the constant contact – that every single week someone is going to get a call just for them."

Volunteers undergo checks and training.

"There is robust volunteer training in place and also volunteers are supported by the co-ordinators so they are never on their own – we are in regular contact with them," Mrs Summers said.

"We match up people and make sure they have things in common so they can have a nice social friendly chat."

She said the charity was looking for volunteers of all ages and backgrounds to match them with.

"People referred to our services are from diverse backgrounds, experiences and ages," she said.

For more, call 01463 712791, or email admin@befriendershighland.org.uk.

Related story: New telephone befriending service aims to tackle isolation

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