Volunteering and Friendship

“Friendship is a lot like food. We need it to survive”

These two sentences come from an article published in an American magazine. As you can probably easily guess, the article is about the importance of communication in our lives.  It concludes, to no one’s surprise, that loneliness has many negative effects – for our mental health and physical health alike.

Despite the negative effects it causes, occasional moments of loneliness are a natural part of life; an important part of life even. For instance, ‘solitude’ is sometimes seen as a more beneficial cousin of loneliness – it can offer us a chance to break away from the business of our lives. It offers time for ourselves, a chance to contemplate and focus on personal development. American writer Robert Fulghum writes about solitude as ‘a boat floating in the sea of possible companions.’

However, like with many things in the world, maintaining a good balance is important for us to lead full and healthy lives. It is the long well-known golden middle way that even Ancient Greeks knew about that is the key towards good health.

The danger of loneliness is even greater for those above the age of 65. Retired people, for example, do not have the benefit of socialising in a workplace. At the same time, poor health can limit their physical mobility and therefore the opportunity to meet with people. Over 38,000 of Norfolk people of this age have suffered from loneliness. For this reason, Norfolk County Council has launched its ‘In Good Company’ Campaign to battle loneliness in the county. Here at Voluntary Norfolk battling loneliness is one of the benefits our ‘South Norfolk Health Volunteers’ (SNHV) have brought to the community.

Food for the soul

Volunteering offers many benefits – the idea of giving up your free time to give back to the community is certainly praiseworthy. But the benefit that is perhaps less talked about is the reward of meeting new people. It is a reward that has potentially long-lasting benefits of gaining confidence and the invaluable reward of building long-lasting friendships.

Our South Norfolk Health Volunteer Programme was launched in 2014 to support people with poor health. Many people referred to the service suffer from conditions that, without support, could lead to long and pricey stays in hospitals or residential care. Volunteers thus help people to remain at home, supporting them to build confidence to lead independent lives. However, more and more people are being referred to us with mental health issues resulting from isolation. Offering support that often leads to friendship is a crucial aspect of the programme.

Our volunteers help clients to do daily tasks that might be difficult due to their mobility issues like shopping. They also help clients with exercises in order to improve their stability, strength and reduce the risk of falls. All this helps our clients to build confidence they might otherwise lack.

However, the support of our volunteers goes beyond the obvious line of health support. The project connects people with similar interests and encourages clients to engage in everyday activities. These activities might seem trivial but offer clients the opportunity to relax in the company of others. Playing games, gardening, or simply having a chat can do wonders. Many of our clients therefore not only find support but also friendship.

Our volunteers provide ‘food’ for people in Norfolk not in the literal sense, but in the sense of perhaps no-less-important social contact and friendship.

Impact

  • Over the past six months our volunteers have spent:
    • 454 hours in a health care setting
    • 1524 hours visiting clients at home
  • We have helped over 650 residents since the start of the service and currently work with 280 Health Volunteers in South Norfolk and Breckland. While we are proud of these numbers, this is still far less than the 38,000 lonely people Norfolk Council reports. We therefore welcome any potential volunteers.
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