Loneliness has been found to be as detrimental to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. What is more, befriending services, which typically cost £80 per person annually, can save up to £300 in public spending for the same period.
Through a variety of carefully organised activities, Archway supports and befriends people experiencing loneliness and isolation, often caused by or leading to disability, age or mental health problems. Through volunteer befrienders and social events, this provides a sense of belonging for those who feel unwanted, excluded and forgotten, helping people to regain social confidence and contribute to society again.
These services also have an indirect benefit for the families of isolated people, who are often relieved to know there is someone providing support and companionship to their loved one. The charity relies heavily on volunteer input – and volunteering itself reduces loneliness, improves connectedness with the local community, develops skills and improves confidence.
In October 2016 the charity was overwhelmed with referrals to the service, and struggling to cope with a backlog of over 40 vulnerable people on a waiting list. At the same time, a new supply of willing volunteers had opened up via a new local befriending website Ami – but staff were unable to train and match them quickly enough.
Deciding that decisive action was needed, Archway’s CEO Sheila Furlong applied to OCF’s Step Change Fund for the cost of a part-time volunteer coordinator. A new staff member was appointed in the role in April 2017, and has since been undertaking a review and streamlining of the systems to improve efficiency and ensure long-term sustainability.
Sheila comments: “We are already seeing the benefits: volunteers are taken through the recruitment process more swiftly, with the result that in four months, 11 befriending matches have been made – five of these with people on the original waiting list. Whilst the numbers are encouraging, the most important thing is that these figures represent regular meaningful human contact for people who would otherwise be suffering the acute pain of loneliness. We are immensely grateful to OCF and the Step Change panel for enabling us to improve our service in this way.”
Thanks to the generosity of several regular large-scale donors, plus a host of volunteer panellists and project managers, the Step Change Fund has become one of OCF’s central grants programmes. We are now looking to build on the Step Change model to offer funding and non-financial support to groups undertaking ambitious, long-term beneficiary work that addresses some of the major social problems we identified in our Oxfordshire Uncovered research.