Jane and Sean on the power of befriending

Jane has been receiving care from Sue Ryder Palliative Care Hub South Oxfordshire for four years and in 2020 she was matched with volunteer Sean through the hub's befriending scheme. Here, they talk about the bond they've created and how befriending has had a profound impact on both of their lives.

Jane and Sean are firm friends after being matched through our befriending scheme

“When I was just 17 my father contracted terminal cancer and I remember the care that he received from the local hospice and palliative care nurses, and I wanted to be able to do something similar. That stayed with me throughout my life,” Sean explains.

“Obviously life gets in the way a little bit, even though in the back of my mind I wanted to do something.”

Doing something for others

“As my children got older I found myself in the position of having more time on my hands and I really wanted to be able to do something for other people. I also like to chat a lot, so when I heard about the befriender scheme with Sue Ryder it sounded ideal!”

Befrienders are often paired with patients who share personal interests and hobbies and the role usually involves volunteering for an hour or two each week. Volunteer befrienders support patients by providing companionship, helping them to shop or visit favourite places, or offering respite for their family.

“Somebody coming along for one afternoon a week gave me a space where I could talk about how I felt”

“Two and a half years ago I was receiving end-of-life care from Sue Ryder Palliative Care Hub South Oxfordshire and I only had a few weeks left to live, or so it appeared. But during those two weeks, the care Sue Ryder provided really began to turn things around for me and I had the amazing experience of actually being discharged because my life wasn’t ending,” Jane explains.

“I was offered the chance of a befriender and at that point my husband and I were completely lost – we didn’t know what we were going to do or how to cope at home anymore. So, the idea of somebody coming along just for a couple of hours one afternoon a week gave my husband a break and it gave me a space where I could talk about how I felt.”

“Sean and I really hit it off”

Jane and Sean were matched through the befriending service in 2020 and have now become firm friends.

Jane says, “The befriending coordinator is so good at matching you up with a person with a similar personality or interest. Sean and I really hit it off - we’re both quite chatty which is good and we look forward to seeing each other. Sometimes we physically see each other or we use Zoom because I’m not feeling so well and it's good having that choice.

Combatting isolation

“You can feel isolated, and I think that’s the case for a lot of people with a long-term illness or disability. You can’t get out much and, especially after the year we’ve had with Covid and the various lockdowns, friends are enjoying getting out and about, but can forget about the fact that you’re still sitting at home.

“The befriending service is great because you have a person to talk to and you can also find out about what they’re doing, which is nice because you can get quite a narrow focus when you’re quite ill. So it’s really nice to have somebody else take an interest in you - and to take an interest in them too.”

“I am in awe of Jane – her bravery, her determination and her will to do anything”

Sean adds, “With befriending, I get more out of it than I put in. I spend one or two hours a week with Jane and I have to say it’s a privilege to be with somebody like her; to listen and talk about anything and everything.

“I am in awe of Jane – her bravery, her determination and her will to do anything in the most difficult of circumstances is quite humbling for me, and puts my life into context. If I can be half the person that Jane is, then I will be extremely proud.”

Walks, afternoon tea and breakfasts

Talking about what they do together, Sean says: “We go for walks, we go for tea and we’ve had breakfast together. Very occasionally we end up with a glass of wine...not at breakfast though!”

Jane adds, “If anyone is working full-time like Sean, but is thinking of volunteering – we just manage to fit our time in even if it’s going for a quick early breakfast in the summer. At first I thought that was quite odd – but then I thought ‘Why not! When was the last time I went out for breakfast?’

“I would highly recommend the befriending service. Sometimes they’re able to suggest different ways of doing things and it’s lovely if you’re able to go out somewhere. I wasn’t able to walk for almost two years so it’s been a hard slog to get back to walking to some effect. We go for a walk and Sean doesn’t mind that I go really slowly.”

A tremendous life experience

“I would recommend becoming a befriender to anyone. You get so much from it, for only the sacrifice of one or two hours a week. It’s a tremendous life experience” says Sean.

“You don’t need any specific qualifications and you are supported through the process. All you have to do is be a good listener, well natured, inquisitive, understanding and empathetic.”

Sue Ryder Palliative Care Hub South Oxfordshire hub launched its ‘good-neighbour’ style befriending service in 2015 and since then it has provided approximately 9,000 hours of care and support to local people. It also runs a befriender-led café for anyone in the community living with a terminal diagnosis, their family and friends, and those who are bereaved.

Find out more information about Sue Ryder Palliative Care Hub South Oxfordshire, the expert palliative care they provide and ways you can help to support them.

Can you help be there as a befriender?

If you are inspired by Jane and Sean's story and interested in helping others as a befriender, get in touch with our Volunteering Team by emailing volunteering@sueryder.org