Loneliness in the elderly is an increasing issue, one that can be detrimental to health and sense of wellbeing. According to Age UK, around 1 million older people in the UK regularly go an entire month without speaking to anyone. St Luke’s recognises loneliness is a growing issue and wants to tackle this problem.

Since June 2014 St Luke’s Hospice has funded a Befriending Service covering many locations across mid and south Cheshire, supporting individuals to be a little less isolated and communities to be a little more compassionate and connected.

Befrienders are volunteers who build friendships with other members of the community, a relationship that will be beneficial to both parties. Isolated people may go days or even weeks without having a conversation or hearing their name spoken aloud. That’s where befrienders like Pia Baxter come in.

Pia, who lives with her husband Marc in Alsager, was volunteering at the Alsager Support Centre when her friend suggested she join St Luke’s Befriending Service last February. Pia was intrigued by the opportunity to have a positive impact on someone’s life in this way. She was soon introduced to someone within the community that needed some company. They hit it off straight away.

“I see it as I’ve been introduced to someone I’ve become very fond of, and we’ve become good friends” says Pia, “I look forward to seeing her. Having a Befriender to visit or call on a weekly basis can make such a big difference to someone that lives alone and it gives them something to look forward to. Many people wouldn’t have any idea what a Befriender is, but I think that so many people would do it if they knew it was required.”

Lauren Godfrey, Alsager Befriending Volunteer Co-ordinator, adds, “People sometimes misunderstand the role of a Befriender, assuming that it may involve personal or domestic care. But it’s not providing a physical service it’s an emotional service that then becomes a friendship.”

Pia visits her lady on a regular basis, usually once a week, to have a chat and sometimes do little errands for her. She brings her the local newspaper so that she can catch up with what is going on in the community. But every Befriender relationship will be different, with pairs being matched where possible on shared likes, dislikes, interests and hobbies.

It’s clear what a huge impact befriending can have on the client. Lauren says, I rang Pia’s lady before Christmas and she said “I love Pia coming to see me. We just get on so well.’” They always have so much to talk about.

But Pia sees the effect as far wider reaching. It’s not just about the person you are visiting it’s about you as well. I visit each week because I really want to and I know that I’m making a difference. I’ve even introduced her to my husband!”

Lauren says, “You just need to be happy to chat. It’s about making connections.” These are connections that can change the lives of people and communities in Cheshire.

St Luke’s currently offer befriending across a number of different locations and we are always looking for more Befrienders. For more information on how to become a Befriender please contact Catherine Holligan. Catherine is our Compassionate Community Co-ordinator and she currently coordinates all of our Befriending Services. Email Catherine or simply call 07496 073430.