Posted: 14 August 2012

The many values of befriending

My name is Sara* and I am approaching graduation at Leeds University . . . such a scary thought! Eight months ago, after three years of working in a children’s play centre and babysitting, I received an e-mail about The Children's Society's befriending scheme.

I immediately signed myself up for the training - I thought it was about time to do something even more worthwhile, something that would directly benefit young people. The befriending scheme pairs disabled young people with volunteer befrienders such as me, so the young people can access activities and develop their independence. 

Upon first meeting the members of staff at The Children's Society's LEAP programme I felt welcome and at ease, and this is something that has stayed with me throughout my time here. When you enter the office you feel like a member of the team, not just a volunteer to support the staff, but a true, crucial part of the whole dynamic. I knew this was what I wanted to do from the word go.

Here Wii go

After completing a rather intensive, yet thorough training course I was paired up (quadrupled actually, as another volunteer and I were paired with two teenagers who were brothers and so spent a lot of time together!). At first I was a little nervous being the only girl in this group, but when I met the two boys, my worries left me and we played hours of Wii Sports and hangman and generally got to know one another a bit better.

Since our first meeting we have done so many activities, and despite the recommended three-hour time period we often spend six hours plus with each other because we have so much fun! Both boys get an individual say on what they would like to do, but sometimes if they’re stuck for choice I will recommend a few activities I know they will love and let them choose.

On most of our days together we go for meals of some sort (usually Frankie and Benny's and the odd McDonald's here and there).

For most people a meal is a meal, enjoyable but necessary. For Simon* and Paul* it is a way to develop their independence as they are becoming more confident in communicating with new people.

What Simon and Paul wanted to achieve

We have also used public transport for many of our activities so Simon and Paul can become more independent and learn well needed bus routes. After several journeys and a few embarrassments by getting on the wrong bus, Simon recently got the bus to his work experience placement, and he was hugely proud of himself. This was a great achievement for Simon and myself.

At the very beginning of the process Simon and Paul were asked if they want to achieve anything out of the service. One of the main things they identified was to gain a hobby. Bearing this in mind, we have done activities, such as go-karting, going to the gym, practising our swing at the driving range, paintballing and we plan to go quad biking and fishing. This has given the two boys an opportunity to try new things which they had not previously done - and to show me up by beating me at EVERYTHING.

Throughout most of our trips I encourage Simon to choose things for himself and to pay for things on his own, which develops his decision-making skills and independence. Although there is still some way to go, I genuinely feel that the befriending scheme has really developed Simon’s confidence and individuality.

By Sara, Volunteer Befriender at our LEAP programme

*To protect individuals' privacy, their names have been changed.

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