About Befriending

Learn more about Befriending and what it means to be a Befriender today:

About the Network

Learn more about Befriending Networks, including staff, board and annual reports:

An Edinburgh Insight: Befriending a Young Mum

From Application through to Training

The poster stood out for some reason. Volunteer befrienders needed for project working with people from vulnerable, chaotic backgrounds. I'd see it each time I went into the library. And each time I saw it, I'd walk home wondering what befriending was.

Befriending. It seemed a familiar enough word. But why hadn't the poster just said friend? What was different about befriending? I have no idea what made me finally take down the project's details. But I did. And when I eventually dialled the project's number, I think I must have put the receiver down two, maybe three times. I really didn't know what to say. Or what to expect. Was this an official, work-like phone call? Would it be like an interview? Should I write down a few sentences in case I had to say anything about myself?

The person who answered the phone couldn't have been more helpful and couldn't have seemed more pleased that I had rung. We ended up having quite a long chat about all sorts of things, really. And as luck would have it, I had phoned just in time to get onto their next training programme. The only thing to do beforehand was to fill in their application form.

Oh dear. I hate application forms! I hardly ever complete them unless they're official or bank-related and I absolutely have to. I'm not sure why I'm like this. Perhaps it's because forms start off easily but end up with a huge, blank page which you're supposed to fill with details about yourself. And just as you're wondering how on earth you're going to fill the entire page, you spot the words 'use a continuation sheet if necessary'. Panic aside, I write a potted history of my life and list the sorts of thing I like doing. The form is complete!

The first training day arrives. It looks like there are going to be twelve of us undergoing the eight sessions of training required to become a befriender. No-one's mentioned whether you can fail the training yet so I figure I'd better look as friendly as possible, just in case this swings things.

As I look around the room, I try and work out what people's motivations and expectations are and wonder if they're doing the same with me. We seem such a random bunch. The age range must be something like 19-65 and there's a wide, wide mix of social backgrounds.

It becomes pretty clear very early on that we're all going to have to get our heads around a new vocabulary and a huge amount of information very, very quickly. In each session, there seem to be endless sheets, handouts, booklets and photocopies. And thankfully, biscuits. There are many thoughtprovoking moments and I'm full of admiration for the Volunteer Co-ordinators who are training us and forcing us to reflect on issues some of us have never come across before.

The same fears and concerns crop up in each session. In my case, it's to do with the fact that everyone seems to be using the word 'befriendee' as if it's completely normal. Is it just me that thinks it's patronizing and naff? And for a fellow trainee, the session on child protection makes them realise that might putting themselves into a situation where they are accused of something horrendous. So thank goodness for all the case study discussions, role plays and question & answer sessions that allow us to voice these fears and concerns.

As the last session finishes, I wonder when or if I'll ever see any of my fellow trainees again. We've been through quite a lot over the last eight weeks and I've learned some very personal and tragic details about some of them.

I went into befriending thinking I'd be a friend; I came out of training realising that I could, should and would never be. What will that be like in practice?

From Training to Matching to First Meeting!

About an hour before setting off for my first befriending meeting, I bumped into a former colleague at the supermarket. I just about managed to cobble a few sentences together that described befriending. My colleague seemed really enthusiastic about it at the start, but then started cooling off – it all sounded too up close and personal, apparently.

The enormity of what I was taking on hit me. I wasn't nervous, really, but the fact that I was about to enter a stranger's home and maintain a conversation for two hours felt very daunting; very unstructured. Completely unnatural in fact. What would I say? Ask? Reveal? Should I have gone down my original volunteering route (helping out at an adult literacy project)? At least things then might have been clearer, more structured maybe. Part of me wished that my project worker was going to be giving me a premeeting ring.

It took me ages to find where I was supposed to be going. Our pre-matching meeting had taken place in a café so I'd never actually been to Leanne's (not her real name) house. Eventually I had to stop the car and ask someone for directions. They assumed I was a home help and were very keen to know who I was going to see as they knew everyone in the street. I'm not at all sure they were convinced about my 'dropping in on a friend' line but I stuck to my guns and gave nothing else away. It was my first boundaries test I suppose and it felt like a very close shave.

When I arrived outside the flat, I realised how much I had been looking forward to this moment. Leanne's front door is already open but she doesn't look up from the television when I enter the room. She's also texting someone. I wave hello to her and smile and she gestures for me to sit down. I look round the room as I'm waiting for her to finish texting. There's something missing but I can't quite work out what it is. Then it hits me. There are no books and no toys anywhere. Three kids but no toy cars, no dolls, no pens, nothing. I make a mental note to bring a toy sack together with some pens and colouring books with me for next time.

Leanne and I start chatting – we end up chatting for the whole two hours in fact. Well, in between her making dinner and me playing monsters and hide and seek with the three kids. Leanne's more open than I thought she'd be and I'm able to ask her enough questions to build up a sense of where she's at and the key players in her life.

We've got loads in common too. Not major things but small things in an 'oh yeah, me too' kind of a way. We both hate chicken on the bone, anything to do with football and the Teletubbies; we both love big Portobello mushrooms, charity shops and cooking (but only when we're in the mood).

As I drive home, I think of how lucky I am and how lucky I've been. And of Leanne's toyless flat. But it's not long before I stop. These feelings, these comparative thoughts, now feel very patronising. And irrelevant, really. I've met Leanne and seen her with her kids. She's a good mum and she's taking each day as it comes.

I realise that my definition of 'making a difference' is laughably middle-classed and completely unrealistic. It's no more sophisticated than expecting to be rescued by a knight in shining armour. The reality is going to be much more low key: seeing Leanne smile, seeing the kids play together, hearing her talk about her and the kids' future. And possibly even making plans ...

I wonder if the telly will be on throughout my next visit.

Back to Befriender Diaries