Days to save Westminster friendship service for the elderly

A volunteer scheme that helps prevent loneliness among vulnerable older people in Westminster by finding them friends in the community will be forced to close next week after running out of funding.

The Volunteer Centre Westminster scheme, in Paddington, has brought together 15 befrienders with NHS patients aged 77 and above.

Patients, many previously isolated and housebound, say their confidence has improved and do not know how they coped before the project.

Westminster GP LINk worker Alex Johnston who refers patients to the volunteering scheme, said: “The impact this scheme has had has been nothing short of miraculous.

“I had been increasingly finding that people were isolated and lonely. Home carers now come in and they are in such a rush because they have so many people to see.

“The patients have all endured years of loneliness and now they have all blossomed. Their faces are open rather than closed and they smile often rather than seldom.

“If it stopped, the patients, who have forged relationships with the befrienders, would be devastated.”

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The project, launched last April, sees volunteers visit patients at least once a week for trips to museums, lunches and walks.

Originally funded by the Department of Health, the scheme runs out of money at the end of the month and needs �30,000 to continue for another year.

Michael Kennedy, 77, of St John’s Wood, has been going to the supermarket with befriender Josie Flanagan once a week for the past year.

He said: “I joined the scheme because I’d been on my own for six years now and I got quite lonely.

“I thought it was a good thing and my carer introduced me to it and I took it up from there.

“I had been housebound and now I have been able to get out for little walks.”

Volunteer Ms Flanagan, from Victoria, said: “Michael feels a bit more independent being able to do his own shopping and I have enjoyed it and benefited as well. We are friends now.”

Project co-ordinator Louise Davies said she is desperate to find someone to provide funding to keep the scheme going.

“It’s all about improving quality of life,” she said.

“The scheme has reduced isolation and the patients have regained a sense of trust in people.

“It makes them feel like there’s someone out there who cares because some of them have no family or friends.”