Two Gloucestershire men, who met six months ago after being ‘matched’ by the befriending service at Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice, are shared their life-changing experience this National Befriending Week to encourage more volunteers into befriending and reduce fears of anyone needing its support.
“I had never even heard of befriending before,” shares 63 year old Alan from Cheltenham who is a patient of the Sue Ryder Gloucestershire-based hospice. “It wasn’t until my doctor told me about it. I wouldn’t have dreamt something like this existed otherwise.”
“Years ago I used to play football but I don’t normally do anything now. Then I met my befriender Rob and since then we go out every week and love it. We go everywhere and anywhere!”
“We have been to Blenheim Palace, Westonbirt Arboretum, an Anglo Saxon church, Bath and Tewkesbury and even Wales. I would never have gone to these places if it wasn’t for Rob.”
“I can’t praise him enough and his company is just brilliant. It makes my life so much better.”
Recently retired, Rob Chapple, 60, also of Cheltenham, shared that he felt there was a real need to support people receiving palliative care with informal companionship and friendship.
“I didn’t know about befriending, but I knew there was a need for it so after I retired I wrote a letter to people I knew working in palliative care to say it would be great if I could come along and meet people and bring my dog, Teddy, too. They both came back to me straight away to say there is a service already and they put me in touch with Sue Ryder.”
“It was exactly what I was looking for and I applied to become a volunteer befriender.”
Alan admits before the first meeting with his new volunteer befriender he felt a little nervous.
“But once the ice was broken and we said hello we found we had things in common – like our mutual love of football – and it was such a relief.
“I want people to know it is ok to be nervous, but after the first introduction it all starts to change. Rob was brilliant at putting me at ease too.”
Volunteer befrienders receive in depth training to help them with their role at Sue Ryder. Rob shares, “When I joined the service I received a very comprehensive induction programme and I completed some modules on things like safeguarding and health and safety. We receive brilliant ongoing support too.”
Volunteer befrienders offer companionship, helping people to go out and access favourite activities and places, assisting with small practical tasks and offering respite for their family.
“Alan has mobility issues so we had to think of something we could do other than having a cup of coffee,” shares Rob. “As we very rapidly became friends we felt it would be nice to become two teenage kids again! We discovered a thing called Countryside Mobility where you can hire mobility scooters from town centres to the top of the Malvern Hills and away we went.”
Together with 6 year old Chihuahua, Teddy, the trio have made 20 day trips across Gloucestershire and beyond during the past six months – strictly to dog friendly venues only!
“Teddy comes with us on all our visits,” adds Alan. “We won’t go anywhere where Teddy is not allowed! Once we went to Weston Super Mare and he was not allowed on the pier.”
“I was a bit relieved at that,” adds Rob. “Despite being small Teddy can be big trouble and we would have spent most of our time keeping him from chasing the seagulls!”
“Out of everywhere we have been I can’t pick a favourite,” adds Alan. “We go to so many places and they are brilliant every time. They are all my favourites really and I can honestly say I don’t think they would be if it wasn’t for Rob and Teddy.”
“I don’t think I could have been matched with a better person then what I have with Rob. He is great. To be a befriender I know is hard work – as they have to put up with me! But I feel so lucky and our visits are great. I look forward to it so much, I don’t care what the weather is like!”
“There is a Dutch saying that says it doesn’t matter if it rains as we are not made of sugar,” jokes Rob. “So as the winter sets in we’re looking at the most robust of mobility scooters called ‘Trampers’ so we can continue to get out and about on our countryside adventures!”
The pair share that befriending has been a real life-changing and life-affirming experience for them both.
Rob adds, “I would absolutely recommend becoming a befriender – you get so much pleasure and you will learn so many things from the person you are supporting. Your life will become richer and more rewarding for it. I have really grown through befriending.”
“I have probably got more from this than Alan has to be honest. With Teddy we have created our own little story and our friendship has evolved and we laugh and together we have discovered the most extraordinary places.
“Through our visits I have found that I have become more appreciative of the changes of the seasons, the leaves, the sunlight and beautiful old buildings too!
“And then of course there is Alan. He has a huge heart and he touches everyone and changes everyone for the better. He really is the most extraordinary human being. It has been a pleasure to get to know him.”
Befriending has been life-changing for Alan too. “Befriending has given me a new lease of life and it has changed my life completely,” he shares. “I can now get up in the morning and have something to look forward to.
“Until I was diagnosed I never even realised Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice existed, but I am over the moon to be under Sue Ryder’s care now.
“Without this I would be in a shell and I would be withering away, and that is all down to Rob. He and Teddy have completely changed my life and I want to share my huge thanks for all the support.
“You might call it beginner’s luck that we both hit it off straight away. We are both huge Arsenal supporters – so we knew it would be a good match from the start!”
Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice is the only palliative care inpatient unit in Gloucestershire and provides expert palliative care and support for people who are living with a life-limiting condition, as well as supporting their families.
Our 16-bed hospice is surrounded by beautiful, tranquil countryside which complements the specialist care and support we give to those with life-limiting conditions and their families.
In addition to our inpatient unit, our virtual day hospice service helps people living with long term conditions and our Hospice at Home service provides care for people in the local community who prefer to receive palliative care at home.
Our expert team includes doctors, nurses, care assistants, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and family support team. They all work seamlessly together to support people through the most difficult times of their lives.
Whether somebody is dealing with a terminal illness or the loss of a loved one, we’re there when it matters. Sue Ryder staff and volunteers provide people with the compassion and expert care they need, to help them live the best life they can.