East Cheshire Hospice has launched a new befriending service for those in the last year of their life who feel isolated, and those who care for them.
Users do not need to be a hospice patient to take part and they can ask their nurse, doctor or social worker to refer them.
The hospice is also looking for more volunteers willing to befriend people in need. A pilot project, funded by Cheshire East Council, has been run by hospice voluntary services co-ordinator Helena Smith.
She said: “Isolation and loneliness, which have a real impact on health, are the key themes here. People might not use other hospice services and might need only this from us and that’s fine.
“It’s for those with palliative care needs and is a really effective way to support their non-medical needs, which we increasingly recognise should have parity with physical health.
“The mental health benefits you get from social contact, and knowing someone cares, are really important.
“It is worth stressing that carers can also feel isolated and this project is also for them.”
Users need a referral from a health or social care professional, such as a GP or district nurse.
Ms Smith said she was looking not just at the medical network of palliative care teams and GP surgeries to find users: “In addition, I’m also contacting social prescribers, social workers, churches, community groups and food banks. I want to see who can benefit.”
In her spare time Ms Smith is a befriender for Pure Insight, a charity that supports care leavers.
She said: “It gives me great pleasure watching the young person I see in an evening flourish. I know I’m making a difference and know befrienders will get that same feeling from this service. I know it can be done.”
Ms Smith already has a dozen volunteers and wants more, hoping flexible arrangements at weekends and evenings will not dissuade full-time workers.
She said: “Volunteers have different skills, whether it’s offering advice, setting up a computer or referring to other organisations, in addition to kindness and caring.
“Basically, it’s doing what you or I might do for someone we care about, but if people are isolated they don’t necessarily have someone to fight their corner like that.
“Volunteers need to be patient, kind and good listeners with a couple of hours a week to give.”
For information, call Ms Smith on 01925 664 984 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.