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Sabrina – Volunteer Telephone Befriender

Published on 29 July 2020 05:06 PM

Sabrina – Volunteer Telephone Befriender

“I love listening to people who have had a lifetime of experiences and come from all walks of life. Conversations are fluid, friendly, often reminiscent and always a pleasure."

Sabrina moved to Bristol seven years ago having lived in London and spending some time traveling abroad. She works for a video production company but was, like many, furloughed in April.

Although Sabrina was ready and trained for the Active Together project, this face to face style of volunteering had to be temporarily suspended due to the pandemic, and so instead, Sabrina was trained for the role of a telephone befriender.

Telephone befriending is a service that Age UK Bristol is offering through the Support Hub which provides practical, social and emotional support to older people during the pandemic. The social aspect of this support comes through online and telephone groups and activities, as well as one to one telephone befriending. A befriender at Age UK Bristol is someone who speaks on a regular basis to an older person in need of social support, the call usually lasts around 30 minutes. The volunteer will have a supervisor to check in with on a regular basis and also has the opportunity to get to know other befrienders.

Sabrina speaks to five people on a weekly basis who range between 61 to 92 years of age.

“The first phone call was pretty challenging. Whilst I felt prepared for how to set up the call from a professional and personal perspective, I couldn't foresee how the person on the other end of the line would respond, and after some initial circumstantial interruptions, we picked back up with a really uplifting call.

I’ve built up some really good relationships and always look forward to our calls. Some of the people I speak with are in their 60s and some are in their 90s; it's clear that there is a high volume of people suffering from isolation, loneliness, health concerns, chronic illness and general anxiety, particularly given the exceptional times we’re currently experiencing.

I love listening to people who have had a lifetime of experiences and come from all walks of life. Conversations are fluid, friendly, often reminiscent and always a pleasure.  It’s great how quickly trust is established and conversations move between the arts, culture, lifestyle, family and health. Calls never feel long enough!

It feels great to be offering a service that people value, being a support mechanism to people who often just need an ear. My interest initially peeked in this particular service following a conversation with my own granddad, now 90 years old, remarking on how lonely he felt, even though he has a huge support network of family, friends and fellow peers in his current retirement home; it left me thinking of all those without such support.

A huge part of my job requires telephone communications; with prospective or existing clients, production crew, freelancers, to venues, talent, and so on, but being in a professional context makes it very different to befriending. Befriending is personal, it’s defined by different boundaries and you are speaking with vulnerable people who need support. 

While listening is always key in really positive communications, we can have a tendency to offer solutions or relate by talking about our own experiences, but in befriending the focus is on the person. I’ve understood how important it is to elicit conversation, navigate and support in a different way, and instead signpost to other services for advice about specific issues.

Talking with people over the phone rather than face to face interactions can also present some other challenges… you don’t get to see the subtle cues or changes in body language, there are sometimes noise issues or other interference, pauses that you might want to jump in and fill.  I’ve found over time these things become less relevant because you learn a different rhythm, you get to know each other's personalities, when a pause is ok for example. I’ve definitely developed my ability to respond to people’s moods and talk with ease about distressing circumstances.

As we’re living through a pandemic, contact has been so severely reduced and many people are feeling lonely and worried about their own as well as their family’s health. And that goes for me as well - telephone befriending is a mutually beneficial experience. For me, I get to chat to new people, learn new things, and be active in our community.”

We are asking for people to give a donation to our Emergency Appeal to help us continue our work during the Coronavirus pandemic.