Need a friend? Help is at hand in Horsham

Everyone’s lives were changed by the Covid pandemic and while life has returned to ‘normal’ for some, others have been left still devastated by isolation.
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But help is at hand in Horsham from an organisation intent on helping people to reconnect back into their local community.

Horsham District Befriends offers a free help service for anyone aged over 18 who lives in the Horsham district.

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It is currently helping a range of people aged from 25-83 to connect to others in a bid to beat loneliness.

You can refer yourself to Horsham District Befriends or contact them if you want to become a volunteer befrienderYou can refer yourself to Horsham District Befriends or contact them if you want to become a volunteer befriender
You can refer yourself to Horsham District Befriends or contact them if you want to become a volunteer befriender

Some are recently bereaved, others are suffering after losing their jobs, some are mums with young children and some have just moved to the Horsham area and want to make friends with other locals.

Befriends’ project manager Lucy Hargreaves said: “People like to talk, but some people have been home alone for a long time. Lockdown knocked the wind out of people’s sails.”

The group is now appealing for people who need help to contact them – and is also appealing for more people to come forward to act as ‘befrienders.’

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Anyone who needs help through Horsham District Befriends is given six informal meetings in the local community with a volunteer befriender who gets to know the person and then helps them to connect to a group of their choice where they will get longer term support from others.

Horsham District Befriends' project manager Lucy HargreavesHorsham District Befriends' project manager Lucy Hargreaves
Horsham District Befriends' project manager Lucy Hargreaves

"The difference with this befriending scheme is that it’s a helping relationship over a defined period,” says Lucy. “It avoids the reliance on one individual as they act as a conduit connecting people to more sustainsable support with a community group or activity.

"Clients usually go on to make friends within the group which then leads on to them joining other activities and groups over time."

GP Dr Emma Woodcock, from Horsham’s Orchard Surgery, is a supporter of the scheme. She said: “In early 2020 we realised that we were seeing increasing numbers of patients in our Horsham practices who were struggling with social isolation and loneliness.

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"The pandemic was having a detrimental effect on people's mental and physical wellbeing. Horsham Central Primary Care Network wanted to work with the council, Citizens Advice and other community organisations to build a partnership for the befriending service in Horsham.

“The intention was to support people to reconnect with each other and to gain confidence to attend local groups and activities. Over the last two years we have seen the positive impact this has had on our patients who describe feeling happier and more confident. Those who have used the service are less likely to visit their GP as life has improved for them and in turn, this helps to free capacity for other patients to access general practice.”

Citizens Advice is also supporting Horsham District Befriends. Head of client services Jason Mather said: “Citizens Advice in West Sussex are very proud to be involved in this much needed befriending project which brings together many local partners to help tackle social isolation.

"We are seeing some great outcomes for service users and volunteers and we hope it can continue as interest and demand increases.

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"There is an amazing array of activities on offer in the Horsham district and sometimes people ned a little bit of support to access them. When they do, the difference it can make is huge for wellbeing and wider health determinants.”

One grateful person who has benefitted from the service said: “I would definitely recommend Horsham District Befriends because of the clever matching of the befriender, we got on so well, had a good laugh about things and it wasn’t awkward at all.

"The more I met my befriender, the more I opened up. I feel like I can do things on my own now.”

Anyone who thinks they would benefit from the service can refer themselves, or someone they know, by calling 01403 215100 (Monday to Friday 9-5pm) or email: [email protected]

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Anyone who would like to become a volunteer befriender can use the same contact methods or google ‘Horsham District Befriends’ for more information. Full training will be provided.

Volunteers can specify how much time they can commit to giving to the service and when they are available.

Horsham District Befriends is supported by the NHS, Horsham District Council, West Sussex County Council and Citizens Advice.