Meet Alma, the coordinator of Linking Lives, a befriending initiative based in Crofton Park that matches local volunteer befrienders to local residents living in the areas of Crofton Park, Brockley, and Forest Hill who are experiencing loneliness.
Linking Lives, Crofton Park has over 50 volunteer befrienders since it began three years ago, an incredible feat and a reflection of how successful this project is. Lewisham Local went to investigate what works so well for Linking Lives to learn from their successes in finding and retaining volunteers.
‘There is no secret!’ Alma confesses. ‘It is really rather simple: I think it is the locality that makes it work so well. We try to match people who live as close as possible to our volunteers, to make visiting easier’.
How Alma matches volunteers also seems to be key in the creation of successful, long-lasting befriending relationships, ‘I match volunteers through their interests and personalities’. She describes one pair who both have a love of cats, and another who have a passion for music, so much so that when she introduced them for the first time, they began a musical duo, one on the piano, the other serenading!
While Linking Lives UK is a Christian organisation, founded in a church in Berkshire and quickly spreading around the country, Alma states that almost 80% of volunteers aren’t religious. Neither are the older people looking for company. ‘We have Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Church of England, Non-Conformists and non-believers, it does not matter what you are or what you believe if you are lonely.’
Alma explains that volunteers tend to be busy professionals in their 20s, 30s and 40s, many of whom are not from London so are looking to get to know local people in their community. ‘It provides opportunities for them to meet people that they wouldn’t normally come across in their work.’ The volunteering commitment is to visit their befriendee just once a week for an hour. ‘It’s that simple. What makes these visits so special for the befriendees is that unlike the many professionals who visit regularly, nothing is expected, they can just be themselves, talk and have someone listen nonjudgmentally.’
“This simple model means there is no expectation other than sharing a cup of tea, and a listening ear“
This simple model means there is no expectation other than sharing a cup of tea, and a listening ear, so volunteers tend to continue their befriending for many years. ‘Very few volunteers move on and that’s usually because they move out of the area or have increased work commitments’.
Linking Lives seems the match made in heaven. Isolated, lonely older people look forward to the company of a younger person who is there to listen and spend valuable time, and volunteers get to spend time with someone close to home, strengthening their links to the neighbourhood and the older generation with all the wisdom and stories they have to share.
Inspired to volunteer?
Linking Lives are currently looking for volunteers. Volunteers complete an application form, provide two character references, and complete a DBS check. There is a training induction before you are matched, and Alma is always on the end of the line should a problem or question occur.
Support Linking Lives by Joining their Loneliness Lock In Challenge!
The Loneliness Lock-In aims to raise awareness of the issue of social isolation and loneliness, whilst also raising funds for Crofton Park Linking Lives and the work of Linking Lives UK across the country.
The aim of the challenge is to provide opportunities to gain an insight into the lives of those in our communities who struggle with loneliness and social isolation. Those taking part will be spending up to 24 hours on their own with no human interaction. During this time, they will not have access to gadgets, laptops or wifi!
For more information and to join the challenge see their fundraising page.
For more information email: firstname.lastname@example.org