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:

Staff & Board


Sarah Van Putten

Sarah is our Chief Executive.

Victoria Galloway


Garry McGregor

Garry joined Befriending Networks as Quality Officer ( Children and Young People’s Services) in July 2013. Originally from a photo library background, Garry began volunteering as a befriender after moving to Scotland in 2002 and then went on to work with Children 1 Bfriends service. He has coordinated a young person’s mentoring service for 14-19 year olds struggling to reach their potential and launched the LGBT Age service offering support to older LGBT people in the Lothians. Other social care roles have given him experience working with people living with homelessness, addictions and mental, or physical health issues. His volunteering experience includes telephone counselling, helping prepare a nutritious Sunday lunch for people living with HIV and offering input to the police on hate crime response as a Lay Diversity Advisor. His hobbies include cycling and cooking – the latter with a particular twist, as he only cooks any recipe once and then moves on to the next page in the book. This has led to some very unseasonal meals – Christmas pudding in June! He has appalling taste in television, being an ardent fan of reality shows and his music taste is firmly rooted in the 1980’s. For holidays, he enjoys city breaks with Berlin, Madrid and Istanbul being his favourites to date.

Muriel Mowat

Muriel Mowat joined Befriending Networks as Membership Officer in May 2017. Her working life has been varied starting, following graduation, in the Civil Service and includes, after the birth of her children, establishing a small business co-operative with a group of friends. For the past 20 years she has worked in a range of voluntary sector roles, including in the field of independent advocacy, latterly working for the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance.

Muriel has filled a number of volunteer posts over many years. This includes her current role as Independent Prison Monitor in which she is assigned to monitor treatment of young offenders in HMYOI Polmont. She also holds a seat on the IPM Advisory Board.

In her spare time she enjoys regular visits north to Sutherland and particularly enjoys spending time with her grandsons.

Diane Claridge

Diane Claridge is the new part time Development Officer for Befriending Networks English members. She lives in Leicestershire and has worked in the voluntary sector for 13 years, four years at a local cancer charity and 9 years for an organisation supporting carers. She set up a telephone befriending service for carers in 2007 which now supports over 140 carers with regular phone calls from volunteers. As well as being a paid volunteer co-ordinator Diane has volunteered with Cruse Bereavement Care as a counsellor and at a local Hospice as a complementary therapist. Diane will be the contact point for all current and new members in England and will be talking to them individually to discuss their membership requirements and to organise some regional network meetings.

In her spare time she likes to keep fit by swimming, walking and attending the gym and dance classes. She hates gardening but she does enjoy harvesting the produce on her husband’s allotment and making nice things like jam and soups. She loves travelling and has been to India, USA and Australia several times visiting family. She is an active member of her local WI and also practices as a reflexologist (she loves feet!).

Board of Directors

Chair: Paul Okroj

Paul has worked in the voluntary sector for 12 years and is currently the Volunteer Development Manager with Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, with responsibility for supporting 110 staff and 1,200 volunteers through:

  • Strategic direction
  • Induction and Training
  • Volunteer policies
  • Volunteer procedures
  • Legislation
  • Service needs/volunteer developments
  • Training and support for staff

Paul has supported local and national government in Scotland and the UK in consultation exercises developing the delivery of public sector services in the community. Current Scottish Government work includes supporting the Volunteer Round Table who are developing an offer paper to more actively recognise the benefits of volunteering in public sector delivery and as a resource for the Scottish Government and other key stakeholders in public sector planning.

Treasurer: Stuart Murray

Stuart studied Commerce and Accounting at Edinburgh Napier, which included a placement spent in Finance team of NHS Lothian. He qualified as a CIMA accountant whilst working for Scottish and Newcastle before moving into Financial Services in 2004. Stuart has undertaken a variety of finance roles within Lloyds Banking Group and is currently a Finance Manager in the Business Support Unit for Ireland. Outside work Stuart has a young family but still finds time to enjoy golf and is a member of Scotland Supporters club, aka "the tartan army".

Jeanette Bates

Jeanette has worked within the voluntary sector for over 25 years for both small and large charities in senior management roles. Her current role as Head of Wellbeing for Independent Age supports the ongoing development and delivery of Friendship Services across the UK and, has a strong background in Business Development, Service Delivery, Income Generation, Project and Staff Management.

Her work has focused on delivery of services for people, more recently for those in older age and previously for those with complex needs such as Learning or Physical Disabilities.

In her downtime Jeanette enjoys music festivals (bit of a rock chick on the quiet); good food and wine along with trying to learn how to play the saxophone.

Fiona Couper

Fiona originally trained as a Speech and Language Therapist but decided to go into the care sector. She worked as a support worker for Scottish Autism and volunteered for the National Autistic Society (NAS) and Riding for the Disabled Association during this time. She is now a Befriending and Mentoring Manager at NAS and run 2 befriending services there. As well as managing the services Fiona also has responsibility for generating funding and developing new projects. She also currently volunteers for the SSPCA.

Andrew Findlay

Andrew has been Project Co-Ordinator of Interest Link Borders since 1996, was previously on the Befriending networks Board from 2003-2008. He originally trained as a lawyer and is on the Board of the Bridge, a Council of Voluntary Service in the Borders.

Interest Link provides 1:1 and group befriending to over 200 people with learning disabilities each year. It was originally an adult service, but started to work with children and young people in 2009 and around a third of its volunteers are school age.

Andrew's role includes managing Interest Link and its staff, project development and fundraising. He is keen to raise the profile of befriending nationally and secured a prominent place for it in the Scottish Government's learning disabilities policy.

Ally Irvine

Ally is the Chief Executive and Befriending Manager for Ecas, an Edinburgh based charity which supports people with physical disabilities.  His work at Ecas is centered around improving the lives of disabled people, something he feels very passionate about. Previously, Ally worked for a youth charity called Young Enterprise and is moving towards his 10th year working within the 3rd sector. Ally has also spent time working for a housing association supporting vulnerable adults with learning disabilities out in the community. He enjoys going to see live music, visiting art exhibitions and cooking.

Maureen O'Reilly

Maureen O’Reilly is an Area Development Manager with Arthritis Care Scotland, having worked in the voluntary sector for 15 years.

Maureen was also a volunteer fundraiser for The Roy Castle Foundation, the Weston Spirit, and Southport Spinal Unit.

She has extensive volunteer management experience, having worked with the British Red Cross, Marie Curie, and NHS Tayside.

She is currently project manager of the Arthritis Care Rheum for Peer Support Project, an online remote service for people living with any form of Arthritis.

Gillian Provan

Gillian has been a media manager with the Scottish Government for the last three years working across a number of subject areas ranging from housing to fisheries. This work included two years publicising the social justice portfolio which covered community empowerment, the third sector and loneliness and social isolation policies. Work includes a mixture of identifying proactive opportunities and responding to media requests, and closely working with policy colleagues.

She previously volunteered with the Glasgow Music Festival, helping to organise the speech and drama events at the annual festival and at community radio stations. On moving to Edinburgh she started volunteering as a befriender with Edinburgh City Council's Health and Social Care team and through her own experience and also through meeting other people on the project, she has seen the benefits of befriending for both befrienders and befriendees.

Neil Thin

Neil Thin is a senior lecturer in the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh,and author of several books on happinesss, social planning, social forestry, and poverty reduction.He specialises in appreciative social planning, i.e. engaging multidisciplinary happiness and wellbeing scholarship in public policy and practice. To this end, he is currently a part-time Parliamentary Fellow in the Scottish Parliament. He also has over 20 years of practical and policy experience working towards the reduction of poverty and promotion of justice and wellbeing in poorer countries, working at all levels from grassroots to governmental and international official agencies.He has frequently served as a social development adviser and trainer for international development agencies such as the UK Department for International Development, UN Agencies, the World Bank, and international NGOs. For over 10 years he served as a Director/Trustee of Practical Action [formerly Intermediate Technology Development Group] and latterly also as Chair of Practical Action Publications (formerly ITDG Publications, now incorporating Oxfam Publications). He was also a Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Tropical Forests, Adviser to the Scottish Executive International Development Programme, and to NIDOS, BOND, and the UK National Lottery Charities Board's International Grants Programme, and the Diana Princes of Wales Fund.

Keith Walker

Keith is Executive Director at Befrienders Highland, and was a Befriending Coordinator with them before taking that role on in 2015. Prior to joining Befrienders Highland, he was Health Improvement Policy Officer at Highland Council and originally worked for many years in the ICT industry.

Outside of work, he volunteers with Samaritans and has held several volunteer and service management roles there. He’s currently a Board member at Samaritans and at Creativity in Care – a Social Enterprise using creative techniques to improve quality of life, inclusion and joy in care and community settings. Other voluntary roles include chairing his local diabetes support group and a Highland-wide partnership of organisations promoting self-management for people living with long-term conditions.

Peggy Winford

Peggy studied Ancient History at the University of Edinburgh. Throughout these student years, she volunteered weekly providing mentoring sessions with young adults on drug and alcohol misuse. On graduation she began working as a care assistant in the local community. During this time, she worked closely with a range of vulnerable adults assisting them to live independently within their own homes. After a brief stint in Marine Scotland as a Fishery Officer, she arrived at her current position in the Scottish Government as a Policy Officer in Carers Branch. Her role focuses on young carers but encompasses many other aspects on the carers agenda. Outside of working hours, Peggy enjoys travelling and is always planning her next exotic escape.