Hello! I’m Caroline, Befriending Co-ordinator at the London Irish Centre (LIC)
I was attracted to the role having previously run Befriending services in London and since a spell of living in Dublin, working in the charity sector, I really missed the interactions with Irish communities – so it was the perfect fit. Luckily the organisation thought so too!
Having re-structured the LIC Befriending Service to a quality standard we were fortunate to have a robust framework in place when the pandemic hit which enabled us to adapt rapidly from a service which originally offered in-person home visits to the most isolated to telephone befriending. Making the transition ensured those existing pairs kept connected as well as reaching further to those whom would lack social interactions with services being forced to close with us all being in lockdown.
It was no mean feat contacting everyone involved in the service so they were informed as well as dealing with all the new enquires. It was all hands-on deck! Staff members from other teams pitching in to support the increased volume of requests and existing befrienders doubling up taking on additional people in need of telephone calls and increasing frequency of contact. We were inundated with offers of help from the community and took their kindness into our hearts. We delivered online training via video call for new befriender recruits and swiftly put them through the necessary recruitment procedures required. With this increased input we were able to expand the service to meet demand.
I felt like I was giving a life jacket to keep someone afloat.
The matching process where we pair volunteer and client has always been a highlight of my role as I am inspired by individuals life journeys and love bringing people together. During the pandemic with each new befriending match I set up, I felt like I was giving a life jacket to keep someone afloat, like a lifeline of social connection. It was apparent that all staff and volunteers became a beacon of light, their dedication and passion shining through via their support to the clients in some of the darkest hours of the crisis. I was prouder than ever to have been working for the LIC at that time.
Since riding the waves, choppy waters calming and restrictions lifted, we have been able to support socially distanced befriending doorstep hellos, park meets and have facilitated some catch-ups at the LIC. These various scenarios have been the first time that some pairs have met face-to-face.
The Befriending Service is going from strength to strength. Going forward we will be offering a blended approach service of telephone calls and in-person meets, where all being well home visits can be re-established.
Already knowing the impact of social isolation on people’s well-being prior to the pandemic, the benefit of befriending really came to the forefront and is now more widely recognised. It was such a powerful experience working in my role during the height of the pandemic where I witnessed first-hand human connection at its best, which can never be underestimated.
Learn more about the London Irish Centre’s Befriending Service here.