Global Intergenerational Week: How our Welsh members are supporting intergenerational connections

Wed 24 Apr 2024

Global Intergenerational Week is an annual campaign encouraging everyone to embrace intergenerational practice and relationships. It's a chance to celebrate the power of intergenerational relationships and highlight the outcomes achieved when people of all ages come together to form vital and lasting connections.

At Befriending Networks, we're proud to support projects facilitating intergenerational befriending matches across the UK and beyond. To mark this year's campaign, we spoke to two of our Welsh members who pair befrienders and befriendees of different ages to form connections and fight loneliness.

Age Cymru – Friend in Need 

Age Cymru runs Friend in Need, a Wales-wide telephone befriending service for older persons, currently supporting more than one hundred service users. They have successfully retained volunteer befrienders for multiple years, with 87 befrienders working with them for 3 years or more! The ages of volunteers range between 30 and 70, but in the last 6 months, Fiona Douglass, who runs the project, has noticed an increase in volunteers coming forward who are between 16 and 20 years old.

‘I don’t know why that is!’ she says, ‘but several of the 16-year-olds first approached other services, such as hospices, because they wanted work experience that would help them with their goals to work in the NHS. But they were too young. Luckily, with parental consent, our telephone befriending is a great and safe way for them to get involved.’

Clients often ask how old the volunteer is, and one challenge for Fiona is the hesitancy of some service users, who may have complex circumstances and needs, to be matched with someone who doesn’t have much experience in befriending. She’s found a way to overcome this – and meet another need at the same time – by offering younger volunteers as an additional befriender to service users feeling particularly lonely, who already receive phone calls once a week. This gives them more contact and allows her to build the confidence and experience of her young volunteers. 

The benefits of intergenerational befriending, for Fiona, are simple. ‘Often our young-at-heart clients want to be connected to a young person!’ She says the volunteer enjoys the connection and learns a lot from the older person, who enjoys being able to offer something rather than just receiving check-in calls. Some of her volunteers started befriending in university, and are still with the same clients. ‘Some of the feedback we’ve got from clients is lovely’, says Fiona. ‘They’ll say ‘they’re like my granddaughter or grandson.’ They exchange birthday and Christmas cards and become part of the family. And it keeps the client young!’

Fiona has enjoyed sharing these experiences with others within the befriending sector at our regular networking events and is excited to bring some of her volunteer befrienders to celebrate at a Welsh members event we are organising during Volunteers Week - subscribe to our monthly newsletter to stay in the loop!

Age Cymru Powys

For Age Cymru Powys, intergenerational Befriending is woven into its everyday work. They connect more than 40 volunteer befrienders (and recruit around 8 more each month!) of all ages with older persons to foster wellbeing across a large and rural county where the effects of isolation are compounded by geographic remoteness. Home visits are vital in such a context, and they strive to provide these wherever possible, alongside offering a telephone befriending service. 

Some of the people they provide services to are from Welsh-speaking farming communities. The importance of providing services in the first language of the people using them is taken seriously by Age Cymru. They have come up with a novel way of not only meeting this need but also ensuring a more two-way befriending experience, where the client can offer something, as well as receiving a service.

They find younger people who are learning Welsh to pair with first-language older persons, so that the volunteer can practice their Welsh and the client can offer advice and celebrate their progression. This makes both members of the match feel empowered and valued, and that they’ve both given and received something. Being able to cater to language needs is also important for service users who may have lost either confidence or the ability – for various reasons – to express themselves fully in English.

With new volunteer recruits each month, Age Cymru Powys finds Befriending Networks’ Befriender Training Toolkit of particular value, helping them train and process their volunteers so that they can keep up with demand! 

Are you a Welsh befriending service? Did you know our Membership Development Officer for Wales is available to support your project? Contact Matt Youde to find out more about Befriending Networks membership and how we can help you - matt@befriending.co.uk