Charity fears befriending service 'at risk' as life returns to normal

Report by ITV Meridian's Mary Stanley

A charity in Southampton fears its befriending service, which has been in high demand during the pandemic, is at risk as life begins to return to normal.

Communicare supports 600 people across the city, a number that has risen during the pandemic.

The service has been a 'lifeline' for people experiencing loneliness during lockdown.

7 million

people have suffered from loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic

Chloe Naegeli and Kim Hogg have become like family over the last four months.

Kim, from Southampton, was forced to shield in March as she previously had a kidney transplant.

As she was unable to see her family, she became quite lonely.

Kim says the befriending service has "changed her life". Credit: ITV News Meridian

It kept me sane, it kept me going and fighting. I was looking forward to a call each week. It's been overwhelming. No matter how low I was she picked me up. If I was in a good mood we laughed together. It was like a lost sister that you haven't met.

Kim Hogg

Kim joined a telephone befriending service chatting once a week with volunteer and university student Chloe. She says it "changed her life".

Chloe said it has "turned into a friendship rather than just a call to check up on someone".

Lindsey and Bob have spoken every week during lockdown. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Lindsey Fraser, who is an Olympic diving coach, also volunteers as a befriender. 

She should have been in Tokyo as a judge, but after being furloughed from her job, she decided to volunteer instead.

Lindsey has been calling Bob each week.

She said: "It's enabled me to do something that is valuable to other people and it's also been exceptionally valuable to me because it's given me something to look forward to each week because Bob has been really interesting and he giggles beautifully so it's been brilliant for both of us."

Both Lindsey and Chloe volunteer for Communicare, which is worried about the impact on the service as lockdown eases.

As our Communiteers return to the normal routines in their lives, particularly people who've been furloughed, that's going to cause us some difficulties in making sure we can support everyone in the way we want to.

Annie Clewlow, Communicare

Charity Time to Talk Befriending in Brighton has seen an increase in the number of people suffering from loneliness.

Emily Kenward, who works at the charity, said: "People tell us at the point of referral that they don't want to live anymore. They feel like they don't have any purpose. When we first did the research before setting up the charity people would say 'I haven't spoken to anyone for months at a time and I feel invisible'. 'Until you contacted me I hadn't actually spoken to anyone or seen anyone, I didn't think people cared'."

The charity hopes more people will come forward to offer their help as many volunteers return to work.

For those who use befriending services, they say just a 20 minute phone call can "completely change the world".

For tips and advice if you're suffering from loneliness, there is help available at the following links: