cash boost for friends

A befriending scheme aimed at supporting north Norfolk over-60s has received �105,000 of lottery funding, enabling it to continue running until 2014.

Since being set up five years ago by Age UK North Norfolk (formerly Age Concern), the one-to-one scheme, which covers the area from Wells to Stalham, has gone from strength to strength and now has 60-plus over sixties and 55 volunteers on its books.

Clients, who can be referred by social services, district nurses or family and friends, have the option of joining the 'Keep in Touch' (KIT) club, which meets twice a month at St Joseph's Church rooms, Sheringham, or being matched with a volunteer befriender, who will visit them in their home or take them on trips out.

As part of the scheme, volunteer-run computer classes are held twice a week at the Age UK North Norfolk drop-in shop in Church Street, Cromer, with those signing up learning skills ranging from sending e-mails and internet shopping, to editing photographs and designing and printing greetings cards.

Befriending manager Elva Gledhill said the scheme provided a second lease of life to dozens of older people in the area .

'Because so many people come to north Norfolk to retire, if they lose their partner they can find themselves with no family or friends, so having a befriender can improve their confidence and help them regain lost skills,' she added.

'One of the nicest comments we had was from a lady who said that, after her husband died, she didn't know how she would have carried on without our help and support.'

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The �105,000 boost comes from the Big Lottery Fund, which awards lottery cash to community groups and projects that improve health, education and the environment.

It will go towards running costs, including funding a co-ordinator for 12 hours a week.

'Without the lottery money, we would have had to stop as we had run out of funding,' Ms Gledhill said. 'So getting the award feels wonderful as it is such a well-used, valuable service.'

Rosemary Whitwood, 84, signed up as a befriender shortly after the service was launched in 2005.

'It was very nice to have someone come and sit with my husband when he was ill, so after he died, I decided to volunteer,' she said.

Eileen Short, whom Mrs Whitwood visits once a month at her Sheringham home, said that since joining the scheme, she hadn't looked back.

'It means a great deal,' Mrs Short, 87, explained. 'Rosemary is a befriender and she lives up to the very name. We have a fish and chip lunch and a chat once a month and talk regularly on the phone in the meantime.'

Yvonne Crawford became a befriender five years ago and, after losing her husband in 2008, she took on more clients.

'I visit two ladies in Cromer and one in Trimingham,' she said. 'And, as well as keeping me busy, I think that it is lovely for the people I visit as I am always on the end of the phone if they need me and it is nice for them to see a friendly face when they can't get out and about.'

Clients and volunteers celebrated at a launch day held at St Joseph's Church rooms, Sheringham, on Monday, with invited guests including Big Lottery Fund development manager Richard Weller and Age UK North Norfolk chairman Betty Balding.

The charity's Capacity and Access team were on hand to help with benefits checks, with visitors also given the chance to find out about Age UK North Norfolk services, from its Sheringham day centre, to a home repair scheme.

Age UK North Norfolk would be pleased to hear from anyone interested in becoming a befriending scheme volunteer. For more information, phone 01263 514801