Friendship can be easy to take for granted, but for many folk across the isles, it’s sometimes in short supply, Louise Thomason writes in her latest contribution to our series on voluntary organisations located at Lerwick’s Market House.
Thankfully, the Shetland Befriending Scheme (SBS) is one charity which can help to fill this gap and benefit people feeling lonely or in need of some extra support.
First set up in June 2000 for children and young people (aged 7-15 years), it is now in its 17th year and also comprises services for young adults (16-25 years), children and young people with additional support needs, the over 60s and most recently, over 60s with dementia.
The organisation matches volunteers to service users for support on a one to one basis. The pair then meet for an hour or two either weekly or fortnightly for a period of time, spending time together sometimes doing purposeful activities, depending on each individual’s needs and interests.
There are five members of staff at SBS; Mairi Jamieson is the young adults development worker. She explained that there are a range of reasons and situations which might result in a young person being referred to the scheme, and the criteria for being involved.
“For the children and young people, there could be external factors which are having a detrimental or negative impact on their ability to reach their full potential. There could be anti social behaviour issues or they might be forming negative friendships,” she said.
“It could be just a lack of a positive role model in their life. [We] get them out doing things to engage in their community in a positive way, for example going swimming; taking metal detectors to the beach; even just going for a cup of tea and offloading to their befriender things that they might not feel comfortable speaking about to other people.”
For young adults, aged 16-25, the criteria are similar. Mairi said: “There could be things going on in their life that’s quite difficult, maybe they’ve had drug or alcohol problems and have come out of that but their circle of friends is still users and they find it quite difficult to form friendships or go into public places with other people.”
“There [can be] issues with homelessness and mental health – the isolation and the loneliness factor, that they don’t want to go out, they want to stay in their peerie hub on their own and it feels quite intimidating going out. We try to build friendships and build their confidence.”
Referrals for those under 16 years can come from professionals working with that person, for example teachers and those working in schools, healthcare practitioners and social work. For those over 16, people can self refer, or be referred by professionals and family members having gained consent from the individual.
Shetland Befriending Scheme is funded through a variety of local and national sources, such as the Shetland Charitable Trust, the SIC’s housing department, Children in Need, the Big Lottery Fund, Life Changes Trust and the Robertson Trust.
But like most third sector organisations, Shetland Befriending Scheme is reliant on volunteers to provide the service.
Training is provided, and currently takes two and a half days to complete. Upon completion volunteers are matched to people based on their interests and hobbies. Volunteers are also supported throughout the friendship with contact with a staff member every six weeks.
Mairi said: “We get the volunteer to fill in a personal profile – what their interests are, their availability, and we try and match them up as best we can to someone we think they’d get on with and share similar interests with. You get a very good idea of who will get on together.”
What a volunteer and their friend choose to do is it up to the pair, and all activities are funded by the scheme.
“It’s entirely up to the young person what they want to do, within reason. It’s quite difficult in Shetland in the winter months – they’ll be going to the cinema, or the Clickimin or using sport facilities, but we also have a lot of crafts and games at Market House.
“There’s the Bruce Family Centre, too, which they can use for baking, which can be brilliant or it can be a disaster! But they have fun and can take what they make back to their families.”
For people over 60, befriending can help fill a gap and can have a really positive impact on someone’s quality of life.
“It’s amazing, the impact of a volunteer supporting an older person to continue to go out to engage in their community. And if they’re not [able to go out] the volunteers take stuff with them and they play dominoes or draughts, in the service users home and they just love it. It’s that company for two hours every fortnight,” Mairi said.
“They have a bit of banter and a fun and a laugh. Sometimes there’s group activities, for young people it might be archery or the climbing wall, for the 60+ they sometimes go to the local hotels and go for a meal and have a chat.”
The benefits of these friendships go both ways. As well as looking good on a CV and contributing to things like the Saltire scheme, volunteers also benefit from the relationships, with many citing improved confidence and self-esteem as a result of volunteering.
One volunteer said: “Working with young people brings me joy and confidence that I am doing a worthwhile job – spending time with someone who needs it, encouraging them to learn new skills, to develop their knowledge of [themselves] and others.”
Another spoke of their joy in helping others enjoy the little things: “We went to the beach because I didn’t plan anything for that day. It was such a nice day. It showed we didn’t need to do anything fancy for him to be happy.”
Feedback from a 60+ person was also positive: “My confidence going out in public has grown since having a befriender and I now have more to talk about with others from getting out and about”.
The charity recently undertook a recruitment drive for volunteers for children and young people’s services and the over 60s. However they are always in need of volunteers and would encourage anyone interested to get in touch.
If you would like to volunteer with the scheme or know of someone who would benefit from the service you can contact Shetland Befriending Scheme at Market House, or by calling project coordinator Lynn Tulloch on 01595 743907 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org SBS is also on Facebook.