National Befriending Week 2023 is here, and it's time to celebrate and strengthen the essential work of befriending organisations across the UK. This year's theme, "Befriending is Support," highlights the vital role that befriending plays in providing support to those in need. At the heart of this movement is Befriending Networks, a network of organisations dedicated to creating connections and nurturing friendships that make a significant difference in people's lives.
A Helping Hand: Bridging Gaps and Fostering Friendships
At St Augustine's, we are currently operating our A Helping Hand befriending programme, which specifically supports refugees and people seeking asylum. The primary objective of the programme is to build meaningful friendships between Centre Members (the individuals receiving support) and volunteers (befrienders). These friendships have a profound impact on everyone involved, from the befrienders to the befrienders themselves. Activities can range from regular chats to going for a walk, visiting local places, and engaging in various activities together.
Befriending Stories: Changing Lives One Friendship at a Time
The power of befriending is evident in the stories shared during Befriending Week. The voices of those directly involved in the scheme resonate with warmth and compassion:
"She's grown as a person. She's got more confident as we've known each other. It's been lovely really." - This statement reflects the positive impact that befriending has on the personal growth and self-confidence of the befriended.
"It's so easy to become lonely. Befriending is vital." - Loneliness is a significant challenge for many, and befriending serves as a vital solution to combat this issue.
"I learned what the role of the befriending scheme should and shouldn't be. To understand what is and isn't available... to be an essential friend." - This highlights the importance of understanding the boundaries and possibilities of befriending while emphasising its essential nature in the lives of those involved.
A Volunteer Befriender's Perspective
The voices of volunteer befrienders offer a unique insight into their motivations and the profound impact of their involvement:
"I wanted to become a befriender to support someone new to the area, to help improve their self-confidence, to be a fresh perspective, and to learn about a new culture and language. Most of all, I want to become their friend - someone they can trust."
"We should never underestimate the positive effects of a conversation over a cup of tea or a walk in the park."
"I am always reminded of a quotation I once read: 'One person cannot change the world, but you can change the world for one person.' I hope that becoming a friend to Y and her family enriches her life as much as she and her family enrich mine."
A Symbol of Compassion and Unity
During Refugee Week 2023, we made a powerful statement of solidarity with those fleeing war and persecution. Together with Sand In Your Eye, we created a breathtaking piece of land art, featuring Sobeda, who fled Bangladesh, and Lucy, her friend from the befriending scheme. The art beautifully illustrates the year's theme of compassion.
Nearly 300 people joined together, hand in hand, to form a human chain surrounding the artwork, captured by a drone photo, symbolising unity and solidarity. Sobeda expressed her gratitude: "Myself and my husband Monir were referred to the Befriending Programme run by St Augustine’s Centre because when we arrived here, we were struggling and isolated. We were introduced to Lucy, who has helped us through difficult times and reduced our sadness."
The Driving Force Behind The Befriending Programme
None of this would be possible without the dedication of Rabia, a staff member at St Augustine's and the programme leader
"There is a need for befriending for our Centre Members at St Augustine's. It is making a huge impact, just by knowing that there is someone you can talk to, someone who is there for you."
"Friendship is important, for our Centre Members and anyone's life. Isolation is one of the biggest things our Centre Members face. Once a Centre Member has made that step with a befriender, we can see them flourish, grow in their confidence, and become empowered."
"The hostile legislation that makes our Centre Members' lives worse and harder; befriending shows hope that people still have compassion and will care for you regardless of monetary motivations."
Becoming a Befriender
If you're inspired by the stories and the impact of befriending and would like to make a difference in the lives of those seeking sanctuary, consider becoming a befriender. Reach out to Rabia to find out more about how you can get involved.