Started in 2011 by the UN General Assembly, the International Day of Friendship was established in recognition of the idea that friendship at all levels – whether between people, countries, or cultures – can help us find common ground and create a foundation for equality.
We know first-hand how much of a difference friendship can make in our lives. While this is true for everybody, it is particularly resonant for people with learning disabilities. A study by the ONS reported that people with a disability are four times as likely to feel lonely “often or always”. While that is an alarming statistic, at Outward we’re doing what we can to make a difference to loneliness in our community through our voluntary befriending programme.
What is a befriender?
A befriender is a volunteer who offers a supportive and reliable friendship to somebody in need of friendship. Befriending is not limited to people with autism or a learning disability, but can benefit anyone who might be socially isolated, including older people or vulnerable young people.
Volunteer befrienders usually put aside a couple of hours a week to spend time with the person they are befriending either in person, on the phone, or virtually. There’s no limit to what kind of activities you can get up to with the people you are befriending. Just as in any friendship, it is up for both of you to find an activity that you both enjoy – it’s fun for everyone! Some of our previous befrienders have done arts and crafts, whilst others have enjoyed trips to the pub. During the lockdowns, we had a particularly creative befriending who did virtual tours of London!
How much of a difference can befriending make?
“He has built my confidence, he has made me feel (I can) improve myself, become forward, ask him anything that I wanted”
In 2020, Outward participated in a study led by University College London that explored how one-to-one befriending affects symptoms of depression for adults with learning disabilities. As the first trial of its kind, the study used a control group and a befriending group to see if participants felt less depressed after six months of socializing with a volunteer for at least one hour a week. Using the Glasgow Depression Scale for People with Learning Disability, the study found that the people who were matched with a befriender had reduced symptoms of depression by four points compared with the control group.
Can I volunteer as a befriender?
Absolutely everyone has the potential to be a good befriender. You simply need to be reliable, open-minded, and a good listener. If you’re inspired to start volunteering as a befriender, you can visit our Volunteering page for more information or email firstname.lastname@example.org. After you fill in our application form, we’ll meet with you to make sure you’re a good candidate and find a match for you. After that, we’ll process a DBS check for you and take you through our comprehensive volunteer training, so that you have all of the skills and knowledge you need to make a difference.