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Cambridgeshire Mencap


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The Role of a Befriender


We are always pleased to hear from our volunteers and their befriending experiences. Here Eddie's volunteer Sarah Carter tells Pinpoint more about her time as a befriender:

When my husband and I moved to Cambridge a couple of years ago I knew I wanted to focus on developing and promoting my art but also to volunteer again.

I wanted a role that would challenge me, add to my knowledge and in some way give me the opportunity to work closely with people, perhaps on a one to one basis. Having sent off an initial enquiry to CSV I was put in contact with the Community Outreach Worker for the area and given a shortlist of local charities that were recruiting. Eddie's stood out immediately because of their comprehensive training programme for new volunteers hoping to become either Family Support Workers or Befrienders. Here was a challenge and an opportunity for personal development straight away.

The training opened my eyes, educated and inspired me with wonderful speakers, it made me feel an affinity even before Id started. After the training I was matched to a young lady called Zoe who has Downs Syndrome and Autism, I was to become her new Befriender. I met her family a couple of times and arranged to shadow Zoes carer on a trip out with her. Zoe is mainly non-verbal, so communication would feel difficult initially. The thought of possibly not being able to get over even this initial hurdle made me anxious at first, trying to remember everything from the training and worrying about getting things wrong, not knowing what kinds of activities to try with her. For the first few visits I remained pretty anxious and knew Zoe was recognising this too.

I suppose my default artist just kicked in after a while however and I took up the idea of drawing a representation of our visit one day. I drew some stick figures, a shop, some trees lining the road wed walked along. As I drew, I noticed Zoe suddenly completely engaged, I offered her the pen, she copied a part of my drawing. I did some more, so did she.we were communicating. We quickly developed a pattern for our time together and our artistic output became prolific. Wed paint, draw, stick and decorate. The more we did, the easier it was to add in other communication through signing and speech.

After each visit I was required to complete a feedback form and far from feeling like unnecessary admin, I found the process extremely helpful. It meant I would think about our time together, what activities worked best to engage Zoe, what she most enjoyed and also what I got out of it. I could celebrate each word of recognition, every hug, all the meaningful moments along the way and I was rewarded a second time with encouraging comments back.

A year on and Zoe and I continue to share our drawing, now with added music, laughter and even dancing at the fantastic Befriending Works run by Eddie's.

Zoes Mum says: It is nice to see Zoe happy and having someone who enhances her quality of life.

Becoming a Befriender has added a layer of happiness to my life I hadnt found in previous work or volunteering roles. I have a sense of wellbeing, knowing my input and support is helping Zoe and her family. I feel appreciated and supported by them and the wonderful staff at Eddie's. Most of all of course, its given me a great friend.

Sarah Carter


Follow on Twitter @SarahCarterArt

If you would like to find out more about volunteering with Eddie's please click here or call us on 01223 883140 (Head Office)/01354 651166 (Fenland Office) or email us at: volunteer@eddies.org.uk

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