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images courtesy of Befriended

Mid Sussex charity Befriended has grown so much since it’s beginnings in 2017. Gail Miller tells Sara Whatley what they have been up to

“Our vision is to end loneliness and isolation in Mid Sussex,” said Gail Miller, founder and CEO of the charity Befriended. Since 2017 Befriended has been changing the lives of lonely and isolated people by bringing them friendship, connection, love and time.

Befriended instantly became a lifeline for many when it first started. Then in 2020 when the pandemic hit they made the hard decision to suspend all face-to-face befriending. New initiatives were introduced such as ‘Acts of Kindness’ where cream tea-in-a-box, Easter-in-a-basket, and Christmas-in-a-bag were safely delivered to those in need. During this time Gail also trained in grief and bereavement counselling, and co-authored a book, Grief Conversations.

Very significantly, Gail also became an employee of Befriended. However, the charity depends on its invaluable volunteers; “Can you give us an hour a week? Is what we are asking people at the moment who are interested in volunteering. We also need businesses to sponsor our events – Parker Building Supplies have sponsored all our tea parties in 2024. 

“Over the last two years we have grown from 25 to 630 users, and 1 to 10 activities,” Gail proudly told me. Face-to-face befriending is back on track, as is a telephone service, chaplaincy service in five care homes every week, a bereavement café in Hurstpierpoint and Burgess Hill, as well as bereavement courses. Befriended Bus Trips provide an exciting treat to look forward to and the Befriended Balance exercise classes are a chance not only to keep active but also to chat and connect afterwards over tea and cake.

“We have a choir – Sing for Joy – which is amazing. Next term we are doing songs from musicals and working towards an Easter concert,” said Gail. One singer, a gentleman living with dementia said, “It’s my favourite time of the week, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Their monthly tea parties are attended by at least 130 people, who rush in early to save places for their friends. Gail told me of one lady who got in touch because she desperately wanted to join in a tea party but her agoraphobia was holding her back. “She was shaking when I picked her up. I escorted her from her door to a friend to sit with,” said Gail. The lady had such a good time she goes every month and has said, “Befriended has changed my life. I can now leave my house.”

“I love these people, they are like family to me,” said Gail. “This is the best job in the world.”

 

Email office@befriended.org for all enquiries or call 0300 772 7703 and visit befriended.org to see their busy schedule of events, services and Volunteer Open Evening

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