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Published
9 May 2022

'Amazing' Befriending Service Reducing Loneliness

Loneliness, its effect on our mental health and how we can all play a part in reducing loneliness in our communities is the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2022, which runs from May 9-15.
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Matt Preston standing outside Trust headquarters

As part of the week, we are sharing details of the help open to anyone over the age of 18 using our services through the ELFT telephone befriending service

A telephone befriending service launched two years ago to tackle loneliness is now providing regular support to more than 100 service users. 

The ELFT service was launched in April 2020 during the first COVID pandemic lockdown, providing a friendly voice at the end of the phone for anyone feeling isolated. 

The service, which is delivered by paid ELFT service users, has continued to expand post-lockdown. It is now permanent and the team of 30 befrienders are helping people of all ages and backgrounds. 

People can ask to be connected with the team through the ELFT service supporting them, or clinical teams can refer people they think would benefit from contact by the befrienders. 

An initial phone call is then organised to ask people how often they would like to be called, preferred gender of the caller, language and interests to help match them with the best-suited befriender. 

“We are all tremendously proud of the service,” said befriending service lead and service user Matt Preston. 

“What we hear from the people we befriend during initial calls can be truly heart-breaking – but the difference that can be made is incredible. 

“Our amazing team are friendly, enthusiastic and help the people we support by encouraging them to re-connect by thinking about hobbies, reading and getting out.” 

He added: “The key to its success is we match people with shared interests and backgrounds. All befrienders are also service users and that immediately helps build rapport and trust.” 

The team support people of all ages, from young mums to the elderly, and many of the befrienders speak a second language. They also provide calls to service users receiving inpatient care. 

Matt said loneliness and isolation can affect everyone and sometimes the befriending service might be the only conversation that people have in a week. 

The befriending service telephones are manned by service users and carers who have been trained and DBS checked. The team also connect with a responsible clinician for every service user, so any risks can be raised.  

It offers weekly calls in blocks of three and six months for service users. 

The service was named People Participation Service of the Year 2021 and National Mental Health Awards Peer Support Service of the Year 2021.

Next steps 

The service is looking at ways to provide short-term support for clients after support for them from ELFT IAPT (talking therapies) services finishes. 

The team are also hoping to recruit Ukraine and Afghan members so support can be offered to service users from those communities. 

The befriending service can be contacted by emailing elft.befriendingservice@nhs.net