Listen up, befrienders add sunshine to people’s lives

Janet Slavin and Mary Johnstone
Janet Slavin and Mary Johnstone

Chatterboxes and keen listeners are being encouraged to put their skills to good use by becoming a befriender.

Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland’s Cardiac and Respiratory Support Service is looking for volunteers from across Lanarkshire to spend time with someone suffering from a long-term illness or heart or chest condition.

The befriending initiative, which has been running for around 10 years, is a huge success.

It matches friendly volunteers with people who struggle to get out and about or who simply need someone to talk to.

Alison Stewart, Lanarkshire C&RSS co-ordinator said: “It’s a simple thing to do that brings huge benefits.

“When we get feedback from the people who use the service, they tell us how much they miss their befriender if they ever go on holiday.

“They say that they don’t know how they are going to manage without them.

“People who have a befriender have more confidence and it can also lead to improved relationships with their own families.

“There may be something that they don’t want to talk to their families about so they tell their befriender.

“They then find that they are getting much more quality time with their families.

“Loneliness is really at the forefront right now and we hope that will encourage volunters to get involved.

“The majority of the people referred to us don’t have a family or friends, or perhaps they simply don’t see them that often – we all have such busy lives.

“But others have mobility issues and can’t get out and about or have had to stop going to social groups.

“We already have a great group of volunteers but we are appealing for more to come forward.”

A great example of how the service works is the story of Cumbernauld’s Janet Slavin and Coatbridge’s Mary Johnstone.

Mary (82) was referred to CHSS’s volunteer befriending service by her heart failure specialist nurse.

She didn’t get out as much as she used to, and, although living with her son, the nurse thought having a befriender and someone else to spend time with would be good for her.

Alison said: “Within only a few weeks we paired Mary with Janet, a volunteer befriender with the Lanarkshire service.

“They agreed to meet once a week and, since then, have been getting together in Mary’s home every Friday morning for a blether, a cuppa and a good laugh.

“Help is at hand right across Lanarkshire thanks to CHSS and people like Janet.”

Janet, from Balloch, suffered a cardiac arrest six years ago and, after some time recovering, she felt she wanted to give something back.

She said: “Because I had been through it, I felt that I had more empathy with someone who had a heart condition.

“I had originally thought about going into hospital wards and just talking to people as a non-medical person.

“But I heard about the befriending service and they were delighted I wanted to volunteer.

“I told Alison that I could talk and listen and she said that was exactly what she was looking for.”

Janet then started training for the role, finding out about the dos and don’ts, as well as receiving quality first aid and mobility assistance training.

“I was quite surprised by the level of training but very impressed too,” said Janet.

“I thought because I was a volunteer, I just had to turn up – but it’s not like that at all.

“You are not in any way thrown in at the deep end; the training and support is excellent.”

Finally, Janet was paired with Mary and the two have enjoyed chats and laughs ever since.

Janet said: “For me, it’s very rewarding.

“She so looks forward to me coming on a Friday, and that makes me feel appreciated.

“We’ve built trust and friendship over the years and she tells me things she doesn’t tell anyone else.

“Our releationship has evolved.

“I lost my mum 15 years ago so it’s almost like she’s a second mum to me.”

When asked what she liked about her visits with Janet, Mary replied: “I love all the laughs we have together.

“I so look forward to her visits and miss her when she’s not here.”

Alison added: “I think people who can listen and who love to have a good blether would make great befrienders.

“Sometimes a volunteer befriender is the only person that person might see in a week.”

To find out more about being a befriender, or how to get support from your local service in Lanarkshire, contact Alison Stewart on 01236 832843.