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Befriending Caithness volunteers praised for commitment

By Georgia Clyne

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Befriending Caithness team members (from left) Steven Szyfelbain, Angie House, Kayleigh Sinclair and Elspeth Manson. Isobel Campbell (missing from photo) makes up the team.
Befriending Caithness team members (from left) Steven Szyfelbain, Angie House, Kayleigh Sinclair and Elspeth Manson. Isobel Campbell (missing from photo) makes up the team.

It now has groups running throughout Caithness and into north Sutherland and there is a growing waiting list for the service which aims to tackle isolation and loneliness.

Speaking during Volunteers’ Week, Befriending Caithness senior co-ordinator Angie House said: “This is an opportunity to say thank you very much to all our volunteers for all that they do and to raise awareness of what Befriending Caithness is about.

“Acknowledging what our volunteers do is really important, as we couldn’t work without them.”

Their role involves being matched with a befriendee, meeting up for at least one hour a week, hearing about their experiences and enhancing their lives.

“The generosity of some people’s time is absolutely amazing,” Angie said. “Our volunteers show an absolutely tremendous commitment and do over and above what they’re supposed to do.”

For example, one befriendee had lived in India as a child so her befriender did some research and brought a map in to her. She was delighted someone wanted to hear her story.

Befriending Caithness – part of Caithness Voluntary Group – now has groups in Wick, Thurso, Mey, Berriedale and Bettyhill. Mey is especially popular, with befriendees meeting from across the county every couple of months for soup and sandwiches, where there is a “constant buzz of chatter, like music. It’s lovely to hear,” Angie said.

The intergenerational group involves S5/S6 school pupils visiting hospitals and care homes. One befriendee said these befrienders are “like young relations”.

The benefits of this are twofold. As well as keeping the befriendees company, it gets the young befriendees into the voluntary mind-set early on, encourages them to become more empathetic and confident and it shows they can make a difference.

Befriendees also benefit from regular contact with people “so they feel as though they’re part of the community”, according to befriending co-ordinator Elspeth Manson.

Angie added: “Helping someone recognise their worth is a benefit for both the befriendee and the volunteer.”

The recruitment procedure includes volunteers receiving Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) clearance and providing three references. Once accepted, training includes support from other groups such as stroke awareness, Hearing and Sight Care and Parkinson’s awareness.

Befriending Caithness is not a standalone organisation – it is helped by the community.

An event to look out for is a fashion show at M&Co in Thurso on June 28, starting at 7pm. Tickets cost £5 and this will go towards the July summer lunch.

As well as being greatly appreciated by co-ordinators, the joy felt by the befriendees is evident. Co-ordinator Isobel Campbell shared a few, including “befriending has saved my life”, “having a befriender would be a luxury” and “befriending is a cup of kindness”.

One volunteer remarked: “I just love a laugh and the banter.”

Befriending Caithness is looking for a volunteer marketing/social media intern. Anyone interested is asked to contact Angie at angie@cvg.org.uk or call 01955 609962.

Volunteers’ Week takes place from June 1-7 every year.

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