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Befriending a Young Person in Glasgow

Befriending a Young Person in Glasgow

It was over two years ago now that I began my training to be a volunteer befriender with a befriending project for young people who are vulnerable and isolated in Glasgow. I had just finished university and I had no idea what I wanted to do. I thought about volunteering and I looked up the Glasgow Volunteer Website and the first advert I saw was 'Befrienders needed'.

Before reading the advert, I wasn't entirely sure what befriending was. I don't think that I had ever heard of the word 'befriending' before. After reading the advert, I had a much better understanding of what befriending was – a supportive relationship between a volunteer adult and a young person which involved meeting each other for a few hours a week. I instantly decided that this was what I wanted to do.

At the training, there were a large number of us and I was worried that I might not necessarily get to become a befriender after the training. I was concerned that they would be looking for someone who had experience working with young people or who someone older than me who had more life experience. The training was a really enjoyable experience and I met a number of people from different backgrounds and I even got over my fear of taking part in the role play exercises!

It was a couple of weeks after the training that I met my support worker who was very friendly. We discussed what I was hoping to gain from the befriending match, any concerns that I had and what kind of young person I would like to be matched with. I said that I would quite like to be matched with a young person who was quite quiet and perhaps lacking in self–confidence that I might be able to bring out of herself (I ended up being matched with a very talkative confident young girl). Not long after, my support worker got in touch to say that she had found a young girl who she thought would be a good match for me. The girl was 12 years old, in her first year at secondary school, and loved dancing and going to the cinema (which I love too!) and going on scary rides and theme parks (not so good!).

In January 2010, I first met Hannah (not her real name). I went to her house with my support worker and was greeted by her parents and her dog, which jumped up a lot! I suddenly felt very nervous – mainly worried that the first meeting might be awkward. When I walked into the living room, Hannah was sitting on the sofa and looked a bit nervous. I sat down beside her and introduced myself and after the first five minutes, in which she was very quiet, she started talking and really opened up particularly about everything she wanted to do. We arranged our first visit which was to go swimming the next Saturday.

Over the first few months of our befriending match, it was really about getting to know each other. I quickly began to get know Hannah and we had a lot in common; more in terms of things we liked to talk about. She would laugh at me a lot when I didn't understand phrases she used like OMG (oh my god) or when she talked about her Blackberry which confused me a lot! After a few months I found myself saying OMG all the time. I regularly saw my support worker at the volunteer centre who was always very helpful and friendly.

We had many very exciting visits – we went to the cinema, to Loch Lomond Sealife Aquarium, to the Science Centre and to the theatre, and also many less exciting visits when we had gone over budget the week before and therefore ended up in McDonalds the week after! The cinema was a great place to go as we liked very similar films and I could go and see animations and Disney films with the pretend excuse that she wanted to go! I think Hannah slightly despaired of me when we went to the Carnival and I refused to go on any scary/fast rides after going on one which she promised me was not scary at all and I was terrified and slightly ashamed when I got off the ride and saw that there were children sitting behind us.

Although our visits were always fun, there were some challenging times, and at the beginning of the match I was often knocked by these. However, after weekly visits for a year and a half, we had a very strong relationship and I looked forward to seeing her every week. As time passed, I could also see that the befriending match had had positives outcomes for her – she told me how much she looked forward to every Saturday and I could see that our visits were fun happy times when she could relax, be herself and also confide in me if she ever wanted to.

For me, befriending is a difficult thing to explain to someone else unless you have been a volunteer befriender yourself. I would often explain befriending to someone I knew and receive looks of puzzlement. I think that Hannah also found this difficult to explain, especially when she met her friends from school when we were together. Many people may have thought we were the same age as by the time Hannah was 14 – she looked much more like she was 16 and I am in my early twenties.

After returning to university in October, I made the tough decision to end my befriending match with Hannah, because I knew I would have a lot on over the next year. I discussed this with my support worker and we discussed how our befriending match should end. When I next went to see Hannah, I was very anxious about telling her as I did not want her to think that it was anything to do with her and was concerned about how she would feel. I told her why I felt that I wouldn't have enough time and although she was upset, it was easier than I had thought it would be. We planned a four–week ending to our match and on our last visit I gave her a card in which I wrote a letter telling her how much I had enjoyed meeting her and referring to many of the fun visits we had had. The last visit was the hardest, and when I left her house, I knew that I was going to miss her a lot.

At the training two years ago, we were told about boundaries and keeping a certain distance between ourselves and the young person and that our relationship with a young person would be different from our relationships with friends. Although this is true, I do feel that the befriending match is about making friends, and that Hannah and I became close friends. I hope that I had a positive effect on her life as she did on mine.

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