The power of friendship

Lesley and Daphne - part of the Thorpe Hall befriending service

After Lesley’s kids had flown the nest, she was feeling lonely so she contacted our Thorpe Hall Hospice to see if there was anything sociable she could do to help. Enter our befriending service: she was paired with 80-year-old local Daphne, they hit it off and they’ve been sharing their passion for arts and crafts – and, in Daphne’s words, “keeping each other out of mischief” – ever since.

With her children having left for university and work, ‘natural nurturer’ Lesley Palmer was feeling a little empty.

“It was the classic ‘children-flown-the-nest syndrome’,” says 52-year-old Lesley. “I have a busy job as a higher level teaching assistant in a school and I also do some tutoring, but the only things waiting for me at home were my two cats.

“To be frank,” she states, “I was feeling a little sad.”

Lesley had some spare time on her hands and lots of care to offer, so she started looking for something positive to fill the gap.

“I’ve been interested in the work of hospices since my dad passed away in a hospice nearly 30 years ago,” she explains, “so I got in touch with Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice to see if there was anything I could do to help.”

A friendly ear and a helping hand

Our befriending service instantly caught Lesley’s eye.

A team of volunteer befrienders offer a ‘good neighbour’-style service to local people living with life-limiting conditions in the Peterborough community. They spend an hour or two a week offering a friendly ear and a helping hand.

“Befriending sounded ideal,” recalls Lesley. “When Dad was in the hospice, I remembered that there was a volunteer who used to drop in and spend time with him. It made a big difference to him – having someone outside of the family who wasn’t too involved emotionally to share things with that perhaps would have been too difficult for his wife, my Mum, and his daughters to hear.

“I knew that this had been really important to him and I could see how it was something I could offer,” she says.

Before signing up as a Befriender, Lesley attended our training course at Thorpe Hall.

“It was really useful, particularly the discussion about what is appropriate to get involved with as a befriender,” she says. “Knowing what the boundaries are is important before you embark on that kind of relationship – and you have to be prepared that the person you’re paired with may have a short life expectancy.”

Match-making: pairing likely friends together

When we pair befrienders with clients, personal interests and hobbies are taken into account, as well as geographical location and family situations.

For Lesley, a two-hour visit after work on Fridays suited her perfectly.

“I crochet and am interested in crafts so was delighted to be paired up with Daphne who used to be a keen knitter,” enthuses Lesley. “She really just wanted someone to sit and chat with, which suited me fine.”

Every Friday when Lesley arrives at Daphne’s, Daphne insists on making her a cup of tea. The pair then sit and talk, Lesley showing Daphne her latest craft project, Daphne sharing stories about her family or sometimes just watching television together.

“I’ve been visiting Daphne for nearly six months and it never feels like a chore,” says Lesley. “In fact, I think I get as much out of my visits as Daphne does. I really enjoy seeing her and spending time with her.”

Lesley has met some of Daphne’s family who are delighted with their friendship.

“Daphne’s daughter went on holiday recently and during those couple of weeks I visited Daphne on Saturday afternoons to break up the weekend for her,” says Lesley. “You do get emotionally attached to a degree – otherwise it would be pointless. For me, it’s a real privilege to share lovely times together while we can.”

How we support befrienders

There’s plenty of support available for Lesley and all of our other Sue Ryder befrienders.

Lesley meets regularly with Thorpe Hall Befriending Coordinator Jacqui Hookham.

“We talk about how we’re getting on, discuss any issues we might have faced and share things that are working well for us,” says Lesley. “And I text Jacqui when I arrive at and leave Daphne’s so I know that support is there should I need it.

“The whole experience has helped me enormously,” she stresses. “I feel needed again. I feel like I am making a difference.”

The befriendee’s perspective

Daphne Long celebrated her 80th birthday in October 2016, but unfortunately ill health makes it difficult for her to get out and about.

“My consultant at hospital suggested Thorpe Hall’s Befriending service to me,” she says. “I have a son and a daughter and some friends who call in, but some days I sit at home and I don’t see a soul. The Befriending Coordinator Jacqui came to visit and the idea of having someone come in regularly to see me sounded good. I was worried that my illness might put people off, but Jacqui put my mind at rest.

“She spent some time talking to me to see what I was interested in and then introduced me to Lesley, who is lovely,” she continues. “When my daughter was on holiday, it was great that Lesley dropped by a couple of extra times – it meant my family didn’t worry as much about me, which in turn meant I didn’t worry about them as much.

“I really look forward to her visits,” Daphne opines. “It’s a relief to have someone else to talk to, but the best thing is that we have so much in common – we try to keep each other out of mischief!”

Would you make a good befriender?

If you live in and around Peterborough and there’s a good neighbour in you, or you think a loved one might benefit from the service, our Thorpe Hall befriending team would love to hear from you.

Lesley Palmer

Volunteer Befriender

Lesley Palmer