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The Alfred Daily interview with Befriender Ruth – April 28th 2020

Host – The lockdown and the lack of social interaction that goes with it can be very stressful for most people but particularly so if you suffer from anxiety or have mental wellbeing challenges. Dorset Mind operates a befriending service and at the moment volunteers are supporting Shaftesbury area residents through regular telephone contact. Ruth lives in Stour Row and she knows first-hand how much the service matters to people who are isolated and struggling.

Ruth – I have been a Befriender for about a year now and I really enjoy it, it has been an incredibly enriching experience.

I will catch up with the people I befriend once a week for about an hour and often use the 5 Ways to Wellbeing to help guide our conversations with the people who we meet up with. Befriending is listening, kindness, friendship but it is also a little bit of coaching, mentoring and encouragement in.

Host – Are the people that you talk with looking for something specific from a conversation?

Ruth – I think it’s like any kind of relationship, sometimes people are coming to those conversations with something they really need to get off their chest or something they need to share or even things they need to celebrate that has gone really well for them/ things that are more challenging. Some of the people that we’ve befriended at Dorset Mind are socially isolated, that can happen whether we’re physically isolated because of rural locations or even in the middle of the town if we’re not seeing the people we are used to seeing or, doing the things we are used to doing.

Host – We often use terms that are usually quite trendy buzz phrases like social isolation or rural isolation but at the end of the day, its loneliness so is phone support enough?

Ruth – Loneliness is very real and I think people who are living completely by themselves can be particularly emotional and develop wellbeing challenges. There are strategies that people can try to help with this. Befriending might not be enough, but its part of a tool kit. Certainly the people I speak to who are on their own talk about a lot of the physical things we can do to help. This can be anything from taking a hot bath, to meditation apps that the NHS has on their website which they recommend using. It could be hugging a pillow, taking time to reach out and phone other people in their lives. There is actually an opportunity at the moment to build bridges with people that we maybe haven’t seen for a long time. In this state of isolation, there is a lot of reaching out that can be done. There are other ways we can feel connected with our community such as the clapping for the NHS. This is one way in which we can all come out and hear others, be together and watch people across the country doing the same thing on the television. Those are some of the things that have come up in my conversations recently.

Host – We’ve spoken mainly about people who are on their own, what about if you’re in a house full and you feel like you’re living on top of your partner, they might be furloughed or you’re all self-isolating together, how do you find your own space?

Ruth  – This is something that is coming up. It certainly seems like the time where everybody is having to re-draw and re-look at the boundaries that they have in their homes. When are they mum or teacher perhaps? Wife? When are they daughter to elderly parents? People are having to wear a lot of hats but all in the same place which is new and that can be quite challenging. What is interesting with the conversations that we have as befrienders are, we can help people notice what is working well for them so that they can capture that and use it more.

In my own home what’s working well for me is a sign on the door when I’m on the phone that says ‘mums on the phone now, can you come in only if you really need me.’ This creates a gentle boundary with my children and that I’m still here for them, I’m still their mum, but it’s also allowing me to wear the hat of doing something else for some of my day and that’s what’s working at the moment at home for us. One of the other things I find myself doing is I take myself off into my car for my befriending calls for example, I take in the car just outside the house. This helps me create that security and privacy for the people I am speaking to. I know not everybody has a car, but it is a question of playing with our own situation, our own circumstances and see what is going to work. That might take 2 or 3 goes to find the thing that actually works, but we can reflect on that in our befriending conversations.

Host – You give up a lot of your time doing this Ruth, why do you do it?

Ruth – Initially I took it on as something I was just doing once a week as a piece of voluntary work, and then I began training in psychotherapy and counselling and have gradually built up the amount of befriending that I’m doing. It’s wonderful as I get to use some of the listening skill’s I’ve developed through my training but in a real way in my own community.

What I would say to anyone who has the time to think about doing this as voluntary work, is that it’s tremendously rewarding and enriching. The relationships that you build up are real connections with people, certainly in my case I have come to value each and every one of those people as a part of my life. The rewards are huge, and the time commitment is relatively low.

Host – Thank you, Ruth, if you would like to volunteer as a befriender, or perhaps you would like to use their services, email befriending@dorsetmind.uk

Find out more about Befriending here.

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