Sue Ryder Hub Thanks ‘Invaluable’ Volunteer Befrienders

This Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June) Sue Ryder Palliative Care Hub South Oxfordshire is highlighting the important role that befrienders play in supporting patients and families, and is thanking its volunteers for their unwavering support.

Alison Clements is the hub’s Befriending Coordinator and is responsible for recruiting and managing its team of approximately 20 volunteer befrienders, who support people with a life-limiting condition by providing companionship, helping them to go out and access favourite activities and places, assisting with small practical tasks and offering respite for their family.

She said: “We simply wouldn’t be able to provide the level of support we do without our loyal volunteers and I want each and every one of them to know just how much we value their skills and dedication.

“Feeling connected to people is vital to our wellbeing and happiness, and our fantastic befrienders play a very important role, providing friendship and support to people during the most difficult time of their lives and enabling them to do the things that matter most to them.”

84 year-old Dot Tyler from Woodcote was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2019, and after experiencing a worsening of symptoms, she was referred to Sue Ryder Palliative Care Hub South Oxfordshire by her GP for specialist care at home.

Sensing Dot’s increasing feelings of isolation, her Sue Ryder Nurse referred her to the hub’s befriending service for some extra support and she was matched with trained volunteer befriender, Cathy Suggate.

“I remember the Befriending Coordinator Alison coming round and spending time talking with me,” shares Dot. “She said ‘I have just the right person for you’- and she was right. Cathy and I just gelled right from the start.”

Cathy has been a volunteer befriender for over five years and is also involved in running the palliative care hub’s monthly Befriender Café at St Nicholas Church in Rotherfield Greys. It is open to anyone in the community who has a life-limiting condition, their family and friends, and those who are bereaved.

She said: “The reason I started volunteering was because in my role as a district nurse I used to refer patients to Sue Ryder. The hub is just amazing and I could really see the relief for the families of knowing that a loved one was being looked after by Sue Ryder. I decided there and then that when I retired I was going to volunteer for the charity.”

“I just love befriending. I get such a lot out of it including a real sense of satisfaction that I am helping people at the end of their lives, whether that’s by supporting the carer or the patient. For many people without a befriender they will spend a lot of time alone at home. I find befriending so rewarding because the need for this kind of support is so great.”

Talking about the time she has spent with Dot over the past 18 months, Cathy says:  “During the coronavirus lockdowns, we weren’t able to meet in person, but would talk regularly on the phone to stay in touch. When restrictions have allowed, we’ve been for tea and cake at local coffee shops, visits to garden centres and for a day of retail therapy. We even paid a visit to the local donkey sanctuary!”

“Befriending has made every difference in the world to me,” says Dot. “The people I have met from Sue Ryder are all guardian angels and I can’t thank them enough. I don’t think I could have got the same level of support and care any other way. I trust them completely.”

“What I have learned from Cathy is just how kind people are. I have lost so many people in my life and now I feel like I have a whole new set of friends and a support system.”

Sue Ryder Palliative Care Hub South Oxfordshire hub launched its befriending service in 2015 and since then it has provided approximately 9,000 hours of social and emotional support to local people living with life-limiting conditions, as well as their families.

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