Carer Befriending Project
A story by Eric Liddell Centre
We provided befriending sessions to carers living in Edinburgh on a 1 to 1 weekly/bi-weekly basis to fit in around their caring duties.
This allowed carers to have the opportunity to take a break from their caring responsibilities. The carer was given the choice of where to go, what to do in this time and for how long they would like to meet.
What Carer Befriending Project did
The befriending development worker works closely with Befriending Networks and Carer Support Groups to advertise the project. We also advertise for volunteers in the local volunteer centre, EUSA, Get Up and Go magazine and our own website. We have also gained volunteers for our service through personal recommendation.
The project creates a personal profile of both the carer and the volunteer and the Development Worker matches them according to their interests, personalities and availability. The worker identifies the personal outcomes the carer wishes to achieve from the project at their first meeting. Together with the befriender they assist the carer meet these goals during the match. The match is closely monitored by the Development Worker with reviews for both the carer and volunteer taking place approximately every 4 months. They meet every week or fortnight between 1 and 4 hours. The relationship is usually limited to one year and at which point outcomes are evaluated.
During the time the meeting takes place it is up to each individual partnership as to what they do and where they go. It has been recorded that some prefer just to go for a coffee and chat, some like to go for a good long walk whilst others vary their activities from having facials to going to the pictures, having a swim or going on a bus journey to some of the outlying towns.
During the time of the grant there have been 26 matches. This varied from having 13-19 ongoing at the same time. That equated to 196 meetings taking place and if we calculate that each partnership meets for approximately 2 1/2 hrs per meeting that equates to 490 hours of befriending. I know that some partnerships meet for at least 3-4 hours per session so this would equate to more hours.
She was paired with an experienced volunteer who had slight mobility issues and an understanding of what it felt like to be trapped in your own home.
At first they met on a weekly basis at a nearby café for a coffee and chat and had a good laugh. As the weeks progressed the carer divulged she was having various issues. The befriender suggested that they could address all these things together if she would like support in doing that. She also suggested using her car to take her to the places. The carer agreed.
The carer reported she was getting on really well with the befriender and getting in the car and going places away from her home life was great and such a huge bonus. She reported just getting out of the house and having company was great as in the past she'd been stuck in the house for days without speaking to an adult. It gave her something to look forward to and new experiences to enjoy. The befriender also took her to a few appointments.
At the first review after 4 months the carer said "I've got a bit of my life back and moving in the right direction. My befriender is really nice and we're a good match. I've never had time to do anything for ME!" The befriender reported the carer had said to her "that even if I'm having a bad day I know I can get out with you."
At the end of the relationship the carer reported her health and wellbeing was better as she was not focusing negatively now. Her interest in learning new skills was better as she had decided to go and volunteer. Her confidence was better knowing that she's not completely useless. "The service boosted me to get out and about and do other things. I don't feel useless anymore. It's given me my life back."
The carer came across as very angry and frustrated in the lack of support he received from agencies within his caring situation and also from the grief and attitude he got from the person he cared for. We paired him off with a male befriender and after their first meeting suggested a game of pool and a cup of coffee. The pair met every fortnight and enjoyed their game, coffee and chat. It was something that niether of them did on a regular basis but it seemed to work for them both.
The befriender chose this activity as it allowed the carer freedom to talk about his caring situation if he wanted or about anything else away from the situation without having to make eye contact. During their time together the carer reported it was easy to have a conversation with the befriender and he really enjoyed it as there were no expectations, he was easy going and they always found a common ground and never struggled to find anything to talk about.
The carer reported that he put other things off to go to the snooker, it's become an event in my calendar and it's not a chore. He reported that his snooker skills were getting better and he was even managing to beat his befriender sometimes. When asked about how it had affected his confidence he admitted he was in a darkened hole when he first started on the project. He said he now enjoys battering the balls around and is less conscious and inhibited. He's even thinking about taking out a membership himself.
"I used to be Mr Angry then realised this is how it's going to be. When someone suggested going for support e.g. carer support agencies, befriending, I tried it and am now enjoying it." "I have at times postponed other appointments to meet with my befriender. That's how much it meant to me."
From the befrienders point of view he reported "it was strange to begin with but it has brought purpose into my life." Since they have been signed off from the project after being a year together they are still meeting up for their regular snooker games.
She just wanted to meet somebody to go somewhere with and get her out of the house. She was matched with a woman around her own age and with similar interests. We spoke to the befriender and asked what she would like from befriending. She wanted to feel that she was doing something worthwhile and purposeful, making friends with someone and being of assistance to someone.
At first the carer was unable to take decisions about what to do and where to meet. The befriender felt she couldn’t take that decision as the time spent together was for the carers benefit therefore it should be her choice. They met every week and due to the carers husband also having a befriender at the same time, it meant she could relax and enjoy ‘me’ time without feeling guilty or worrying about her husband.
During their time together they went on various walks, trips, shopping, exhibitions and shows. They managed to cover a diverse range of activities whilst also visiting various places. After the year was coming to an end I asked the carer what she had gained from the befriending. ‘We went clothes shopping for me which I had stopped doing for myself, we went walking which I wouldn’t do on my own, we walked by the canal, down at the beach, along the river in Peebles and looking to do some hill walking in the future. We go different places. It’s nice to meet up with my befriender and I look forward to each weekly meeting.
Once I’ve seen her it seems ages until the next meeting. She has a very calming effect on me and a good listening ear. I lose my temper less with my husband since I’ve been seeing my befriender. I also feel less guilty at not only leaving him but also that I’m not getting so annoyed with him. He also notices the difference in me. I also seem more relaxed and stop to speak to people which I didn’t do before. The relationship has given me more confidence. She's had a positive impact on my life. I’m also taking in more around me and becoming more aware of my surroundings. I was disconnected so befriending has been helpful. We just seem to fit.’
The befriender commented that she had enjoyed being a volunteer befriender and had felt quite relaxed in the role. She felt very fortunate that her carer was easy to get on with. She felt they had been really well matched as they had a lot in common and she looked forward to their meeting every week. She commented that she definitely saw that the carer was more confident within herself. ‘I have benefited from the relationship and it’s good being a part of something and happy to feel useful.’
Although the Befriending Project ended the agreement with both the carer and volunteer, their friendship continues outwith the auspices of the project and they continue to meet every week.
What Eric Liddell Centre has learnedHaving the fund has allowed us to keep operating the project. Carers have indicated how important the befriending service is to them in their caring role allowing them to take a break. There have been logistical challenges when arranging meetings. The carer (or befriender) may have to cancel at the last minute due to the person they care for having appointments or their health deterioration. We have had to ensure appropriate staff coverage is available to arrange cancellation as Befriending Development Officer only works part time.
We make the service very personalised and flexible from matching the carer with a volunteer who has similar interests or if they have personalities that would be a suitable match. When delivering the induction training to the volunteer befrienders it is emphasised that the time they spend with the carer should be up to the carer to decide and chose. They decide how often to meet, what to do and how long the meeting should last.
Some matches have not been successful. These have been mostly due to one of the individuals not feeling comfortable with the person they've been matched with. Alternative matches have then had to be made. On the other hand if they've been matched and get on very well, when the annual review takes place, they want to continue the relationship. Therefore they get signed off from the project meaning we have lost a volunteer befriender but on the other hand they both have a continued and ongoing friendship.
We have advertised the service in carer support magazines, through the carer support network and from displays at carer support days. We also advertise through our own website. We always try to encourage take up of the project wherever possible. Other agencies are aware of our project and have referred carers who have had no previous support. During Christmas and summer holidays we tend to get no referrals.
It has been challenging trying to keep the project operational on limited funds whilst at the same time applying additional funds. From the project being operational for over 2 years there have been various stages of learning. We have updated our promotional materials, altered our profile matching, increased our monitoring meetings, added volunteering networking and ensured end of relationship evaluations have been incorporated into grant reporting.