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Overcoming social isolation and loneliness

Out and about with a volunteer buddyHow can people with a learning disability be supported to build meaningful connections with others in their community, in order to reduce their isolation and build their confidence, independence, skills, activity levels and social networks?

This is a question I’ve been asking and a challenge I’ve set myself since I started work 18 months ago as the Volunteering Manager at Brandon Trust. The challenge takes on added urgency when we consider that social isolation and loneliness are quite literally, deadly, and worryingly prevalent amongst people with learning disabilities. I’m attempting to tackle social isolation and loneliness by setting up and running a volunteer buddy project as part of my role at Brandon. Tackling social isolation clearly depends on both the quantity as well as the quality of relationships.

Our volunteer buddies are trained volunteers who:

  • support someone for at least 2-3 hours per week, for 6-12 months or more
  • are matched with someone based on shared interests, availability and location

Volunteer Buddies have been brilliantly successful at enabling people we support to go to new places and do things. It’s been clear that people we support hugely value the companionship their buddy provides.

One volunteer buddy reported: "When I arrive at the house, S comes running up to me and says ‘me!’ with a big grin on her face. She knows that I’m coming to see her especially, and that we’re going to go out."

Another volunteer told us: "T gets really excited when I visit him. He’s always waiting by the window to see me coming, and then opens the front door before I get there. I think it’s because someone is coming to see him specially. I’m his buddy, and he knows we’re going to go and do something he’s chosen to do."

In some cases it also seems that the support of a volunteer buddy has enabled people to gain social and relationship skills. One of our volunteer buddies told us: "When I started supporting C, he would talk about himself a lot, and when I talked about myself, he’d start talking about himself again quite quickly. He asks more about me now, it feels much more like a mutual exchange, it’s more equal, more reciprocal. We’re both sharing things about ourselves. It’s more like a friendship."

I’ll keep you updated on our progress but in the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about our volunteer buddy scheme, drop me a message: david.rinaldi@brandontrust.org.

David Rinaldi
Volunteering Manager

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