PEARL & LIZ
Some years ago, Liz was thinking of volunteering and was looking for something that resonated with her. She had an interest in psychology and mental health, and wanted to feel that she was doing something useful. When she heard about Tandem, she was attracted by the idea of working for a small, local charity.
Pearl first came across Tandem in the waiting room at her doctor’s surgery, where she saw a poster on the wall. She had been living with mental health problems for many years and in this respect is not unusual. Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year and in England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week. Pearl was looking for some support in connecting with the wider community. “I just felt isolated. I love being on my own, but it’s very difficult when you don’t have friendships to help you negotiate your way through life” .
Liz applied to become a volunteer befriender with Tandem, completing a training course to equip her with some of the skills that she would use. When she was matched up with Pearl, she was nervous about their first meeting. “We met in a coffee shop with the Tandem co-ordinator and I think meeting in that way was helpful as there was someone there to help us get to know each other and interact for the first time.“
Pearl and Liz started to feel comfortable together quite quickly and began by meeting in a café each week. After a while they found their own balance to the meetings. “It’s like jazz. You learn the basic rules of music and then you can improvise” says Pearl. Since then the two have shared many interests: music, trips to the theatre, and, a highlight, a trip to London to see a Frida Kahlo exhibition. “We have done some amazing things”, says Pearl, “a bit of everything”.
For Pearl, the befriending partnership has allowed her to feel safer. “Befriending is different from a friendship because of boundaries. It’s contained. We meet somewhere neutral. That’s important. I never wanted to lean on Liz because I didn’t want to push her over. I didn’t want to lose her.”
So, what has volunteering as a befriender given Liz? “Pearl has lots of different ideas about things and says things that make me pause or question what I think. Befriending makes me see things in a different way and gives me a different perspective on things and a greater understanding of what life can be like for other people.”
For Pearl the benefits of befriending are also clear. “It’s given me my life. I know there are boundaries, and it’s not like Liz is my best friend, but having a befriender has meant that I can jog along over the years. I have a lot to deal with, so many health issues. To do that alone is impossible, so (befriending) has given me my life."