A HELENSBURGH-based organisation which offers a free one-to-one befriending service to people suffering from loneliness celebrated its new status as a registered charity last week.

Members of Visiting Friends held the event – which coincided with National Befriending Week – at the Helensburgh and Lomond Civic Centre, where volunteers, trustees and members of other local groups gathered for the reception.

In a venue which perfectly captured the ethos of the charity, Visiting Friends manager Jayne Burnett gave a warm welcome to guests and spoke of her excitement at the potential of the group.

She said: “I am so thrilled because this just shows the importance of an organisation like this and how it is needed in the community.

“We’ve got great support and great volunteers and I just hope this is the start of us beginning to grow even more.

“The charity launch embeds us in people’s minds. It’s wonderful to see so many of our Visiting Friends here and volunteers past, present and hopefully future.”

With a nursing background, Jayne said her current role is the perfect marriage of her skills, and she has already been delighted with the progress made since she got involved with Visiting Friends in 2015.

She added: “It makes me quite emotional.

“Day-to-day, when you’re working, you can forget what you’re doing it for and then you meet the people, the volunteers and their friends and you hear their stories.

“They tell you about how it’s changed their life and you realise that every little bit counts.

“Kindness like that has a ripple effect, so one person rubs off on another person and before long we’re creating a really lovely community. Everyone’s a winner.

“For every volunteer we have, some of them might be doing it because they’re lonely, so it’s a win-win.

“We would like to double the number of volunteers we have. We’ve got 25 matches at the moment and I’d like to see us up at 50 certainly in the next year.

“One day I would like people to look at us and say ‘that’s how to run a befriending organisation’.

“Maybe Visiting Friends could actually be advising other people how to do that.”

One volunteer who has already benefitted from his contribution to the charity is Jim Beggs.

Jim is now befriending Harry, who is 84 and has Parkinson’s.

While their weekly meet-ups give both men a chance to get out and about, Jim says it has become much more than simply offering a service.

He said: “It’s three years since my mum passed away. We were very close, and this has kind of filled a void, if you like.

“When you lose somebody in that age group, you want to have someone else in your life, and Harry and my mum were similar ages.

“It has helped me a great deal. You do become friends and you want to be there for them.

“I’ve not been lonely – my wife and I have been together for more than 30 years, so I’ve never been in that situation. But if she goes away, even if she goes out for the day, I’m sitting there drumming my fingers.

“So you can’t imagine someone being married for 60 years, then that somebody else passes away, and all of a sudden you’re in this house where you shared your whole lives together. You can’t even think about it.

“But I don’t know anyone that has become a volunteer and regretted it. Everyone loves it, I certainly do.”

Catherine Grant first met her befriender, Susan Smith, last September, and says it has also made a huge positive impact on her life.

She said: “The social work department phoned me and asked if I would be interested in someone coming to visit me and I said ‘yes, I’ll take all the help I can get’.

“Susan came along and we’ve done very well together – we really hit it off.

“It’s made a big difference. I see my eldest daughter maybe every 10 days, but my family aren’t on the doorstep popping in every day. Since my husband died two years ago I’ve been completely on my own.

“I can’t leave the house unaccompanied so that immediately means I’m just stuck really.

“All the lovely sunny days we’ve had, I’ve been in the house all day myself, because I just can’t go out since I had a stroke.”

Befriender Susan added: “It’s really nice to have someone from the generation above you to be friends with because I don’t have any parents any more, or aunts and uncles. I’m now the top generation in my family.

“There’s more than 30 years between myself and Catherine, but we’ve really hit it off and yet we’re complete opposites.

“It’s nice to feel that actually someone does seem to appreciate you being around.

“A lot of people probably don’t realise until they are in a situation of being lonely, what it actually feels like.

“If you’re sitting in a house on your own, day after day, eating alone, not speaking to anyone, that is brutal.

“Anyone who lives on their own probably has moments of loneliness – I think you’d be odd if you didn’t.”

Asked what advice they would have for anyone thinking about joining Visiting Friends, the pair replied emphatically: “Do it!”

“You’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain,” added Susan.

With plans to focus on people from all age groups and continue expanding the reach and impact of the organisation, Visiting Friends aims to tackle the issues of isolation and loneliness head-on.

And by offering just a minimum of two hours a week to help befriend someone in need, the rewards far outweigh any negatives.

Jim said: “People say it’s invaluable. To our age group, two hours is nothing, but to these people who rarely see anyone, it’s a big, big thing.”