Time to Talk Befriending (TTTB)
Welcome and Acknowledgement
Time to Talk Befriending (TTTB) is a Sussex based befriending charity specialising in overcoming loneliness through a range of activities to promote community connections, engagement, and long-lasting friendships.
Time to Talk Befriending is relatively new but has grown rapidly since it was founded in 2013 and has benefited from awards and accolades over the years. The charity was founded based on the voice of older people and continues to provide strong relationship-centred support, person-centred support, and provides a pro-active response to the needs of scheme members and volunteers including pioneering new intergenerational befriending practices. For example, Great Oaks and Little Acorns and forest school collaboration with Bee in the Woods (www.beeinthewoods.co.uk) bringing together pre-schoolers their parents/carers and our older members for activities and fun in nature.
From the offset, we based our model on the voice of older people, hosting local consultation events, inviting older people in our original local neighbourhood of East Brighton to share their thoughts and feelings about unmet needs in their community. 94 older people participated (2011-2012), the majority were aged 80+ and living alone. Their overwhelming collective response was for friendship. Comments such as ‘’I haven’t spoken to anyone in three weeks’’, ‘’I feel invisible’’ were recurring themes. Time to Talk Befriending was founded based on this research, motivated to ensure older people do not feel hi
dden away and forgotten by society.
The charity has received various accolades:
Building on best practice, the charity undertook a quality assurance review of our work in 2019 which resulted in receiving an accreditation of 'excellence’ for our intergenerational befriending model. The excellence accreditation was awarded in March 2020 by the national membership organisation, Befriending Networks (www.befriending.co.uk).
Research with scheme members and volunteers continues to be a core foundational principle of Time to Talk Befriending to engage with and fulfil their service experiences and changing needs. Dr Henglien Lisa Chen, Deputy Director of Centre for Social Work Innovation and Research at the University of Sussex who disseminated the findings for this report has worked with Time to Talk Befriending since 2015.
Additional partnerships with likeminded collaborators with a common aim to overcome loneliness include, charities, schools/colleges, churches, faith groups, authorities, businesses and experienced professionals with professionalisms such as Dementia inclusivity i.e. www.storychaplain.com, bereavement and loss i.e. retired hospital Chaplain and Psychotherapist Peter Wells.
Most of our community volunteers are working age 20-55 years. The majority of the befriending matches we currently support are for older people aged 80+ living alone in Brighton, Hove, Adur and Worthing, Sussex. The majority are housebound or virtually housebound, and report at least one long term health condition at the point of referral. 11% have a diagnosis of dementia. It is important to note that we call the older people connected to the charity ‘scheme members’ because it is a term, they want us to refer to.
While there were rising concerns around the Covid-19 development we transitioned our befriending service quickly to respond to the pandemic. By the end of March 2020, we were providing telephone befriending, virtual volunteer recruitment, resources, and online training for our volunteers.
During the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic (April-June 2020) referrals into our service for older people experiencing loneliness increased dramatically. In April 2020 we opened our service into a new area in West Sussex to meet a need for long term befriending, and by June 2020 we had literally doubled in size supporting an additional 200 older people and an addition 200 volunteers within 4 months. By the end of December 2020, we were supporting 531 one to one telephone befriending matches between older people and community volunteers. Between April 2020 -January 2021, 61 scheme members died compared to an average of 20 per year.
We set up an emergency food distribution centre in response to the unmet needs of our own members identified through one to one call prior to the first lockdown in March 2020. This was made possible thanks to additional support from our in-house volunteer reviewers who are mostly retired social work professionals and volunteers who transitioned to our core team from Victim Support.
Phase one (mid-March to early April) enabled us to help 139 scheme members access emergency food parcels thanks to a collaboration with City Coast Church (www.citycoast.church) to set up the food distribution centre. The staff team worked with these 139 individuals to set up long term food delivery services which was in place by early April 2020.
Our food outreach centre soon transitioned to supporting emergency referrals from Brighton and Hove council for older people living in food poverty. March-August 2020 our partnership with City Coast Church extended and we worked alongside Nourish Catering and Events (www.nourishcateringandevents.com) to deliver over 3000 fresh homecooked meals to older people’s door made from donations and food waste. Weekly emergency food parcels were also delivered providing essential tinned items, toiletries, and fresh food such as bread, milk, and eggs, thanks to ongoing relationships with the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership (www.bhfood.org.uk), local Churches, faith groups, charities, businesses, and individuals. Our food outreach ended in August 2020 when there were sufficient food hubs offering support across Brighton and Hove.
In addition, we ran a small home cooked meal delivery project to Brighton and Hove Council Senior Housing residents. This was made possible thanks to partnerships with Nourish Catering and Events and Impact Initiatives who are the lead provider of a Brighton and Hove Public Health Commission called ‘Ageing Well’ of which we are sub-contractors (www.ageingwellbh.org).
Our extensive database of information enabled the staff team to provide a mix of 418 onward referrals and signposting information to our existing scheme members to enable them to access additional support i.e. money advice, practical help at home and activities i.e. online groups, library home delivery services, food provision etc.
Our in-house Anna Chaplaincy service increased by 10% within the first week of the pandemic and our chaplain continues to provide an integral frontline response to members who are in need of a listening ear.
The Charity also worked together with the Sussex Indian Punjabi Society (Sussex Indian Punjabi Society) and other local BAME groups to raise awareness of loneliness during Covid-19 and how it’s impact on social well-being can be improved.
Finally, our postal communication with scheme members increased in response to findings outlined within this report about the positive way in which our communication helps to create a sense of belonging.
As a result of the pandemic, the charity is now supporting the largest number of older people and volunteers we have ever supported at one time. We continue to extend staff hours to respond. We have kept our quality systems for volunteers in place: Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), reference checking and online inductions. For the first time ever, at times we have had to hold a waiting list, with more older people on our records while we carefully and prudently recruit and train more befriending volunteers as capacity allows. This has included the development of partnerships with local businesses who allow staff to give time during working hours which has proven to be an invaluable resource.
Our continued response is to absorb this growth steadily so we can ensure our intergenerational model stays quality focused, responsive, and innovative in the coming years. Currently, we are also supporting older people with more complex needs to release the pressure of NHS and Local Authorities. This is very important because the austerity of health and social care and the pandemic itself has further increased distress and anxiety in older people whose loneliness was already a major issue for them.
This report is based on research that enabled us to capture our scheme member and volunteer experiences of Covid-19 lockdown, the impact our service has had on them, and their ideas for service provision going forward so that we can plan for the future. Whilst the research was specific to our charity, there were important findings that other Befriending organisations, Public Health, and policy makers might be able to consider stimulating shared experiences and knowledge exchange.
Time to Talk Befriending would like to express its gratitude for all our scheme members and volunteers who participated in the research and shared their experiences, thoughts, ideas, and enthusiasm amidst raising concerns and challenges around Covid-19 developments.
Dr Henglien Lisa Chen, Deputy Director of Centre for Social Work Innovation and Research, School of Education and Social Work, University of Sussex played an integral role in disseminating the findings. Lisa’s research is centred on the policy and practice of long-term care, particularly in the forms of community and institutional care of older people including people with dementia and their in/formal carers and caring professionals.
Lisa gained the secondary research ethic approval at the University of Sussex (reference: ER/HLC27/2) for this research. She led and conducted the data analysis, findings, and report writings of the research.
Catherine Woods is a Year One, Social Work BA student at the University of Sussex. She is an early career researcher who mentored by Dr Henglien Lisa Chen in this research. Catherine co-conducted the first step of the data analysis and part of the finding writing up. She contributed to the proofread of the STRT report.
Claire Godley is a Time to Talk Befriending Trustee. Claire was instrumental in developing the research questions for the surveys.
Founder & CEO
Time to Talk Befriending
Introduction to Staying Together Recovering Together
Typically, our scheme members receive approximately one hour per week of in-person befriending with our volunteers, weekly group befriending socials and seasonal gatherings with other scheme members, volunteers and staff. Our volunteers received training by our staff and external trainers before the COVID pandemic. In response to supporting our scheme members and volunteers during the pandemic, our Staying Together Recovering Together approach included:
In August and September 2020, we conducted a survey with our scheme members and volunteers about their experience of:
The survey aspired to better understand the benefits and challenges of our response to support our scheme members and volunteers during the COVID lockdown and beyond. To provide us with more objective findings on how to further improve our services to support our scheme members and volunteers during the COVID pandemic and in the future, we provided the anonymous survey to the researchers, Dr Henglien Lisa Chen and Ms. Catherine Woods of the University of Sussex for independent analysis. Here is what they found.
Validity and reliability of the findings:
A total of 220 randomised telephone and postage surveys were distributed to scheme members, and randomised online surveys were issued to 520 volunteers by Time to Talk Befriending (TTTB) between August and September 2020. A total of 76 and 97 surveys were completed and returned by the scheme members and volunteers respectively. The response rate of the scheme members (35%) was statistically valid meaning the findings are likely to be accurate and reliable. While the response rate of the volunteers (19%) was low so the findings cannot be generalised; nonetheless, the returned surveys include volunteers from a wide range of gender, age, ethnicities and a great mix of new and experienced befrienders. There were many shared experiences where some important findings have emerged.
Day-to-day life experience during lockdown might be normal for some but challenging for many:
The demographic profile of the scheme members was predominantly white-British and female with many of the oldest people aged 80 and over. The lockdown has impacted on the mental wellbeing of many scheme members significantly with feelings described as ‘lonely’, ‘scared’, ‘worried’, ‘tough’, ‘upset’, ‘stressed’, ‘hard’, ‘difficult’, ‘depressed’ and/or ‘fed up’ which are all associated with various risks, loss and bereavement. These include but are not limited to:
At the beginning of lockdown, some scheme members were affected by groceries shortages, limited accessibility to shopping and cash or alternative paying methods which increased the risk of poverty:
‘Running out of physical cash has been difficult. [I have] been struggling to get cash. [I’m] unable to leave home to go to a cash point... [I] had been making cheques out to [my] neighbour who would give [me] cash. But [I’ve] run out of cheques and the bank is being slow in sending a new book’ (Scheme member 23, aged 90, white - British, female).
It should be noted that TTTB were aware of the challenges of those scheme members who had difficulties in accessing groceries at the beginning of lockdown and responded rapidly with the delivery of food parcels.
Overall, less than half (32 out of 76) of the scheme members view the lockdown as manageable or to have had little impact for them. Few of those (6 out 32) have been house-bound as a result of various health issues (poor mobility, cardiovascular disease, mental health) prior to the pandemic and felt used to being alone. Within those, many (20 out of 32) have family and/or formal care support with shopping, personal care, and/or outings. In contrast, only some (15 out of 44) of those who found the lockdown to be (very) difficult have received some family or formal care support. It suggested a wider support network beyond befriending is very important during the lockdown and isolation. However, the sustainability and reliability of other formal care support and/or Health Care can be challenging. Two operations were postponed, and some care services had been cancelled or postponed during the lockdown:
‘I missed the chiropody being done. I need it due to diabetes. I was also waiting for a bath-board and bar to be fitted which was delayed. But now re-scheduled for 2nd September’ (Scheme member 3, aged 81, white-British, female).
‘I have personal assistants, but one stopped coming due to pandemic, one didn't believe in it and didn't respect PPE/distancing. So [I] had a lot of stressful work to do in organising new PAs’. (Scheme member 14, aged 56, ethnicity unknown, female).
Nonetheless, it is not clear whether the lockdown itself has had a direct impact on the physical health of the scheme members but there were a few (6) scheme members who were unwell and four who had hospital admissions. There were four members who became confused and were not able to communicate via phone.
Volunteers used a wide variety of vocabulary when asked to select three words to describe their befriending experience. Interesting terms to highlight include ‘life-changing’, ‘inspirational’ and ‘fun’. Key themes emerged, reflecting an ‘enriching’ experience for nearly all (93 out of 97) volunteers whilst many (76 out of 97) found befriending to be ‘enjoyable’. These ‘enriching’ and ‘enjoyable’ experiences might refer to the feelings of interdependence and worthiness illustrated by some volunteers:
‘During lockdown, I have found befriending equally as important to me - we will remain friends now, even outside of TTTB!’ (Volunteer 24, female, white - British, age 55 and 6-months with TTTB).
On the contrary, it is also important to note that a few (11 out of 97) volunteers described a ‘challenging’ aspect to their experience. Many of those were the volunteers who started to build the relationship with the scheme members over the phone. For example, volunteer 8 who was female, white - British in her 40s and has spent 23-months with TTTB said:
‘I've not been able to get to know her yet as [the] lockdown happened [the] same week as we met… I only met [my befriendee] briefly once so don't feel like I know her but have tried to keep in touch with postcards, texts and a few calls. I don't think I've been too great as I'm not a fan of talking over the telephone’.
Nearly all of the scheme members and volunteers were satisfied with the new normal support of TTTB:
Nearly all (64 out of 76) of the scheme members were satisfied (23) to very satisfied (41) with the befriending support and other services they have received from TTTB during the COVID pandemic. The shared satisfactory experiences were related to the holistic and diverse support of TTTB. This includes: i) befriending companionship; ii) the newsletter, which provides a sense of connectedness and features in-door activities and tips for self-care, iii) shopping and food parcels in meeting basic human needs as well as iv) signposting services from TTTB based on the needs of scheme members:
‘Help with shopping was great. Befriender is great, young and cheers me up’ (Scheme member 16, aged 75, white - British, female).
‘Only thing that gets me is loneliness. My family are all far away. Befriender has been one of my only social interactions. [The befriender] Is lovely, she gave me a tomato plant and I love it. I enjoy the newsletter, seeing my befriender!’ (Scheme member 27, aged 83, white - British, female).
‘The newsletter makes me feel like part of a community. It's great to read about and see different people, see faces, learn about others involved in the charity. The letter is important to me as I cannot attend in-person events’ (Scheme member 14, age 56, unknown ethnicity, female).
‘Newsletter is great, [I] really like the word searches and puzzles. Thinks they are a great idea and help[s] keep the brain stimulated’ (Scheme member 30, age 88, white - British, female).
Similarly, nearly all (95 out of 97) of the volunteers felt (very) satisfied with the TTTB support to volunteers. They stated TTTB provides an outstanding quality and frequency of communication with volunteers via emails, newsletters and training support.
Furthermore, volunteers used a wide variety of vocabulary when asked to select three words to describe their relationship with TTTB. Many volunteers (61 out of 97) noted a ‘supportive’ relationship, whilst nearly half (55 out of 97) stated ‘positive’ characteristics. Many (65 out of 97) found the relationship to be professional using terms such as ‘helpful’, ‘informative’ and ‘organised’.
Identified in the survey were the extra services or support that the volunteers thought TTTB could consider providing in the future, for example, group support for volunteers. It suggested the needs of peer emotional, practical and social support for volunteers who are likely lone-workers which would contribute to their helping roles with individual scheme members.
Relating to TTTB support beyond the pandemic, many scheme members would like the support developed during the pandemic to stay and extend. For example, some (13 out of 76) scheme members expressed the desire for increased postal communications to continue. Furthermore, some (14 out of 76) members requested that telephone befriending remained, adding reflections on the beneficial aspects of this service:
‘Telephone befriending is really good as it helps you fit into your day better as opposed to in-person (for both people)’ (Scheme member 3, age 81, white - British, female).
It was also felt by scheme members that services such as telephone chaplaincy, food shopping and delivery and signposting (inc. shopping, domiciliary helps, handy-man, activities, benefit advice and financial arrangement such as access to cash or online banking and online shopping) should endure beyond the pandemic:
‘TTTB should carry on with the shopping delivery etc, anything new should stay. People could need it in their situation even without the pandemic’ (Scheme member 4, aged 73, white - British, female).
Consideration should also be given to some of the grievances noted regarding the alteration of services:
‘I don't like the assessment to be on the phone, it feels more connected when done face to face. Especially when talking about personal things such as medical issues or injuries’ (Scheme member 2, age 91, white - European, female).
Furthermore, for scheme members, more activities which could meet their individual interests in order to promote meaningful engagement and quality of life is fundamentally important. Scheme members (6 out of 76) demonstrated an enthusiasm for the initiation of telephone coffee mornings, although there was some uncertainty around how this would take place:
‘Interested in telephone coffee mornings but not sure how they would work’ (Scheme member 57, age 74, ethnicity unknown, female).
A few (5 out of 76) scheme members expressed a desire for activity packs to be introduced; four members made references to outdoor activities, while three members specified activities in nature would be welcomed:
‘Short walks in nature would be nice’ (Scheme member 72, age 78, unknown ethnicity, female).
Scheme members also suggested the introduction of different groups and activities such as singing, art, knitting, Bible study and board games:
‘Painting group, or groups to encourage each other with art. Or a befriender to visit and paint. Also, if TTTB could put on Scrabble groups/events or have a befriender visit to play scrabble’ (Scheme member 10, aged 67, other white background, female).
‘Activity packs and I would like to do knitting’ (Scheme member 74, aged 94, British, female).
Telephone befriending has pros and cons, but it does not work for all:
There are many more advantages to telephone befriending for volunteers than for scheme members. For the scheme members who have limited mobility or who are shielding, telephone befriending could be one of the best options to sustain some human connections:
‘[I] had a stroke so can't attend in person events therefore they have not been missed. [I] am happy with telephone befriending so [I’ve] not missed in-person as such.’ (Scheme member 35, age 92, white - British, female).
For the volunteers, advantages to telephone befriending includes the flexibility in time arrangements and saving time due to less travelling - particularly for those who are time constrained: ‘It is obviously much easier for me to organise and fit a phone call in my day around work and childcare as opposed to visits…’ (Volunteer 60, female, white others, age 41 and 36-months with TTTB).This is followed by having someone to talk to, staying safe and becoming an active listener:
‘The only advantage I can think of [is] that we are keeping each other as safe as possible… because [my befriendee] and I am at the high-risk group and we are shielding’ (Volunteer 68, Male, white-British, age 64 and 36-months with TTTB).
‘[Not] being able to pick up on non-verbal clues was hard at the beginning but meant I probably listened more actively’ (Volunteer 3, female, white English, age 67 and 36-months experience with TTTB).
However, it is clear that, the in-person connectedness is missed by more than half of the scheme members and the volunteers:
‘Really missed the in-person befriender visits, when Ellen rings it's not the same as in person.’ (Scheme member 14, age 56, unknown ethnicity, female).
It is very important to note that telephone befriending cannot reach out to people who have severe hearing impairments, cognitive impairments and/or do not like to talk without face-to-face contact.
For those volunteers who managed to befriend over the telephone, many (72 out of 83) have experienced the absence of non-verbal languages, physical contact and observations which contribute to meaningful conversation, meaningful activities, and emotional and/or practical support. All of those can have a great impact on the quality of befriending which is relationship-based support. The relationship-based support is vital so as to sustain the scheme member’s engagement with the befriending services and to combat their loneliness and isolation which is vital during the COVID pandemic.
‘A big disadvantage: we used to play scrabble during my visits, and sometimes look at books, and of course no hugs’. (Volunteer 36, Asian other, age 56 and 18-month with TTTB)
‘...phone calls tend to be quick and impersonal. It is hard to really tell how [the scheme member] is feeling’. (Volunteer 12, female, while others, age 41 and 36-month experience with TTTB)
‘It is obviously harder to build rapport/relationships without seeing each other. Perhaps feels a little less real?’ (Volunteer 13, female, white British, age 64 and 4-month with TTTB)
‘Not seeing them in person, especially when I am concerned about their physical or mental wellbeing, and if they have enough provisions etc (especially when their self-reporting isn't always reliable and they have no other visitors). Concern about the effects of their isolation’. (Volunteer 19, female, white Caucasian, age 59, and 24 months with TTTB).
The challenges of telephone befriending on missing the non-verbal language, shared meaningful activities and bonding relationship has constituted to shorter, infrequent or discontinued befriending contact for a few (15 out of 76) scheme members, as illustrated below:
‘My befriender was really nice but has stopped. [My] befriender has stopped calling, which I miss’ (Scheme member 31, aged 83, white - British, female).
‘[I] was phone by [XXX] only a few times then he stopped. [XXX] was nice and would like him to start calling again’ (Scheme member 28, aged 87, white - British, female).
A few scheme members further stressed the importance of regular contact from the volunteers in that even a check-in call is valuable in making them feel reassured, as illustrated below:
‘Make sure that the elderly people without any family or neighbours, be kind and call on them to see if all is ok’. (Scheme member 61, aged 83, white-British, female).
Social distancing befriending is not common practice but it’s invaluable to those who are able to have doorstep and garden visits:
While social distancing befriending was not common practice during the pandemic, some volunteers (37 out of 97) provided it during the summer months of the COVID pandemic. Within those 37, only two did not provide telephone befriending. This was on account of one volunteer who did not like to talk on the phone and another volunteer who could not communicate over the phone due to their scheme member’s hearing impairment. Some of those (10 out of 37) are new volunteers who have started to provide befriending support during the pandemic. Nearly all of those (34 out of 37) met in the garden, by the front door or through windows of the scheme members’ houses. Few (2 out of 37) visited the scheme members in their houses and one took the scheme member to a pub. The warm and dry weather is one of the key supporting factors. Other key factors for scheme members were:
For example, unlike home visits, the mobility of the scheme members would not be an issue because volunteers could mobilise themselves to get close to the scheme members; for social distancing befriending, it requires the scheme members to stand, balance, walk, move and sit - even within a short distance it could be difficult for those with poor mobility. For these reasons, six volunteers were unable to provide social distancing befriending:
‘I have popped by 3 times with limited success. My befriendee sits in a hard chair (which she has to drag from the kitchen) in the hall and I sit outside the porch. Unfortunately, it is very uncomfortable for her. She is torn between wanting the visit but not wanting the hassle and 'uncomfortableness' of the logistics’ (Volunteer 73, Female, white British, age 65, and 36 months with TTTB).
All of those volunteers who were able to provide social distancing befriending enjoyed the companionship, provision of practical support and reassurance during social distancing visits and many spent more time with their scheme members than when on the phone:
‘[The visits] have been very successful, thanks to good weather enabling garden visits. Very good and reassuring to see how [the scheme members] are rather than rely[ing] on phone self-reporting’ (Volunteer 49, female, white - Caucasian, and 24 months with TTTB).
The above has further highlighted the value of social distancing befriending and the importance of exploring the sustainability of the face-to-face contact as one volunteer stated:
‘Bearing in mind that social distancing rules may continue into the winter, the availability of a "safe space" indoors where a meeting could be arranged might be of benefit if we continue to not be able to make home visits - although I appreciate this would involve a cost to administer.’ (Volunteer 82, male, white British, and 4 months with TTTB).
However, non-verbal language can also apply to physical human contact (e.g. physical seeing, holding hands, hugs, etc.) according to a few of the volunteers. This is another essential element of developing and maintaining intimate relationships as a vital part of befriending that could not be achieved via telephone or social distancing befriending:
‘Unfortunately, I have not been in contact with [my befriendee] as much as I would like since lock down began in March. [My befriendee] finds it very difficult to talk over the phone, so I have not kept in contact this way. She also does not want to "socially distance meet" as she likes to hold my hand during our meetings…I am sure [my befriendee] feels more isolated and lonely….I have sent her cards on a semi-regular basis to let her know I am thinking of her, and looking forward to continuing our visits once restrictions have been lifted.’ (Volunteer 72, Black British, age 46, and 11-months with TTTB).
The support of Information Communication Technology (ICT) engagement is welcomed:
Near half (37 out of 76) of the scheme members owned ICT equipment including laptops (16), smartphones (10), iPads (7), tablets (6), desktop computers (2), mobile phones (2) and an iMac (1). A few of those (7) own more than one ICT equipment. A wide range of ICT usage among few scheme members is found in the survey responses and the primary usage includes:
In addition, ICT usage for befriending is evidenced in practice too. Few volunteers stated their engagement with the scheme members over text messages (2 out of 97) or emails (2 out of 97), followed by WhatsApp (1 out of 97), Facebook Messenger (1 out of 97) and Skype (1 out of 97).
The scheme members raised further desire of ICT usage, such as general use (11), internet use (6), contacting people (3), e-banking and accessing government websites and national archives:
‘[I] wish [I] could be taught to use Internet banking. As well as going on government websites and national archives. [I] don’t want to have to ask [my] befriender, as [I] wants to use their time to chat and be friends’ (Scheme member 14, age 56, unknown ethnicity, female).
Nonetheless, a substantial need for ICT support was found in the scheme members’ survey responses. Nearly half (26 out of 76) of the scheme members would like to explore the option of using simple and safe technology and the internet. 15 of these owned some sort of ICT equipment including laptops, tablets and smartphones, but lacked the access and educational information to utilise them. This was illustrated through comments such as:
‘Would love help with technology. [I] owns an iPhone but cannot use it at all ([it] stays in the box)’ (Scheme member 6, aged 73, white - British, Male).
‘Education [on using a] laptop would be great. [I] bought one but cannot figure out how to use it. [I] bought a book to learn from that is aimed at senior citizens, but [I] still cannot make sense of it. [I] would love in-person help that was aimed at [my] age group.’ (Scheme member 30, aged 88, white - British, female).
The support most requested by scheme members (21 out of 76) was technology guidance. Scheme members also provided suggestions on how they would like such guidance to be implemented, for example via post (3), in person (2), in group sessions (1), one-to-one (1) or over a video call (1). It suggested the need for focusing on various learning approaches and age-friendly instruction to meet individual learning needs:
‘[I have] recently been using internet-based technology for the first time with help from a cleaner. But [I am] really keen to learn more, [I] would love to have help from TTTB with it - either as a group class when possible or via post’ (Scheme member 16, age 75, white - British, female).
‘Being house-bound, it would either need to be postal help, or a visitor who comes to teach, or sign posting to a service that will visit with technology help’ (scheme member 14, age 56, unknown ethnicity, female).
‘[I] would love in-person help that was aimed at her age group’ (Scheme member 30, age 88, white - British, female).
It is important to note that a few (10 out of 76) of the scheme members did not have IT equipment due to financial deprivation or not knowing how to buy any, and few (11 out of 76) needed assistance with internet set up and access. Some (28 out of 76) were neither interested in nor owned ICT equipment.
The experience and interest of ICT usage among the scheme members has well challenged the social perception of older people being incapable and/or uninterested in using technologies. It further argued the needs of ICT developers and relevant support actors to gain a better understanding of older people so as to provide user friendly ICT equipment, informed choices as well as appropriate training and support in meeting the demand of older people. Efforts also need to be made on preventing technology poverty and exclusion of those who are not interested in ICT usage and those who have financial barriers to accessing ICT.
Training support to volunteers:
Time to Talk Befriending has been providing mandatory induction training for new volunteers since its foundation. Specialised workshops and training on Dementia Inclusive Befriending, and Bereavement and Loss, have been running since 2019. Additional workshops on how to maintain good brain health and wellbeing launched in October 2020. All training and workshops are offered to volunteers online during the pandemic.
While many volunteers were experiencing difficulties in providing emotional support to the scheme members and working with people with dementia, most (76 out of 96) of the volunteers did not attend the training. A few (6) volunteers expressed that the online or zoom approach and time clashes with work restricted their availability or accessibility to the training. For those who attended training, 11 and 7 attended bereavement and dementia awareness training respectively. There was only one volunteer who attended the training for the two topics. All of those who attended the training found the topics and the peer-support to be very relevant and useful, both personally and professionally:
‘[The bereavement on-line training] was excellent and I found it useful in my capacity as a volunteer but also on a personal level’. (Volunteer 80, female, white - British, age 58, 5 months with TTTB).
‘The [dementia awareness] training was great, I especially loved the resources provided such as the ingredient cards. It was a great place to hear other befriender's stories and helpful experiences’ (Volunteer 22, female, white - Caucasian, age 29, 4 months with TTTB).
Although there were only one and four volunteers who expressed the needs of substance misuse and mental health training respectively, it has been supported by many research studies that loneliness and isolation could constitute increased alcohol intake and the mental ill-being of depression. There is evidence of increased alcohol intake and mental health difficulties nationally during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The need for training on telephone befriending has also been highlighted by the volunteers. Particularly on ‘telephone communication skills’, ‘how to be a good listener’, ‘reflection’, ’empathy’, how to provide emotional support and building the relationship over the phone when it is not possible to see the facial expressions of one another.
Overall, the existing contents of training on loss and bereavement as well as working with people with dementia are very relevant to the volunteers and it could be expanded into a few stages so as to provide more depth knowledge and skills. The need for helping people with mental health (e.g. for depression and suicide prevention) has been raised by quite a few volunteers during the pandemic. The new normal of telephone befriending at TTTB means there are needs for the relevant training to empower the volunteers to build the relationship, develop and keep up meaningful conversation, work with people who have hearing and/or cognitive impairments and provide emotional support over the phone. Arguably, a recorded training session and hard copy booklet in addition to synchronized online sessions might maximise the volunteers’ availability and accessibility with regards to the training.
Conclusions and recommendations:
From the survey of the scheme members and volunteers, we learnt that the lockdown experience among more than half of the scheme members was (very) difficult as it impacted on their care service support, mental wellbeing, and financial hardship. There were more scheme members who had ICT equipment - and wanted to be able to learn how to use it to connect with friends and families, online shopping services and engage with the wider community - than what is expected socially. Most of the scheme members and volunteers highly valued TTTB’s wide range of support. It included befriending companionship, the TTTB newsletters provision of indoor activities and the sense of belonging, social prescribing support, as well as an outstanding quality and frequency of communication with volunteers via emails, newsletters and training. Nonetheless, telephone and social distancing befriending does not work well when there is a significant restriction on the scheme member or volunteers’ sensory, mobility and/or visual and physical connectivity. Most of the scheme members and volunteers missed the in-person befriending where physical human contact (e.g. hugs, holding hands, etc) are very important to human relationships.
Overall, it suggests one size does not fit all. There is an increasing importance of balancing human direct and indirect connectivity via digital, telephone, postage and in-person that befriending support services could provide to both the scheme members and volunteers. To further strengthen and expand the wide range of befriending approaches and support, a number of considerations are suggested as follows:
These findings have enabled us to respond to the wants and needs of our members quickly. We have adapted our service to provide:
‘The facilitation was excellent, with such thoughtful and engaging conversation starters. Charlotte (the facilitator) ensured everybody had an opportunity to talk. It has once again demonstrated what a vital service you’re providing. The isolation and loneliness of those on the call was evident yet eased for this one hour of having the opportunity to talk with others. Sounds like they’re keen to continue their relationships outside of the tea parties, as well as attend future parties. What a triumph’!
The hope is that positive relationships will build within these peer groups. That through meaningful connections with each other, confidence will build, enabling us to begin to support older people to leave the four walls of their homes to meet up with each other safely when it becomes safe to do so.
Staying Together Recovering Together Report
Chen, H.L., Woods, C., Godley, C. and Kenward, E (2021) Staying Together Recovering Together: Research Report, Brighton and Hove and Worthing: Time to Talk Befriending.
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