You would never know watching Irene and Elaine that they have only known each other a few years.

They met through volunteer work but became such close friends they finish each other's sentences.

"Do we? Are we like that?" asks Irene MacPherson.

"We've never actually noticed it," says Elaine Stoops. "I mean, Irene is just Irene - there's nothing to dislike about Irene. And Irene is a kind lady."

"Well, thank you."

"No it's true."

"But we do get on very well," agrees Irene. "When we're out socially, we get into terrible problems.

"We start singing at stations and that's only maybe having a couple glasses of wine."

They finish each others sentences, beam with laughter describing a friendship forged through being friends to others.

Irene was matched by the Helensburgh charity Visiting Friends with Elaine's mum, Kathleen, then aged 95.

And their first meeting lasted four hours.

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For five years Kathleen would light up at Irene's arrival once a week.

Elaine says she wasn't sure about a befriender for her mum, until Irene turned up and she realised it was a fantastic idea.

"And I and the whole family consider Irene part of the family," she says.

"That's lovely to be adopted like that," replies Irene.

Elaine, 67, continues: "And my mum just had the most fantastic time when Irene would turn up. The two of them would be there laughing, singing or singing hymns."

"That was my first befriender," says Irene, 76. "I had lost my two dogs and decided my dog days are over and I thought I want to do something else."

Jayne Burnett and Debbie Beggs at Visiting Friends and Talking Friends help match volunteers with those looking for befrienders.

They introduced Irene to Kathleen and her family, and Elaine came to see that time as her time too.

"We talked about everything," says Irene. "And every time I was thinking about going away we'd start another conversation."

READ MORE: Charity is tackling isolation among Helensburgh's older residents

Irene laughs and describes her and Elaine as "like Mutt and Jeff" as they continue to bounce lines off each other.

"I think on the very first meeting we just knew it was going to be absolutely as it is. It was great," says Elaine.

"I got to know the whole family," says Irene.

"We must be quite a nice family that I never knew we were," quips Elaine. "Or maybe it's just you who bring out the best in us."

Irene explains that as she got to know Kathleen, it was a friendship where they could share things outwith family.

"Your mum would maybe tell me things she would not tell you," she explains.

"You better tell me what she told you," injects Elaine.

"I'm not going to tell you.

"And I would tell her things I might not tell other people. I knew quite a bit of gossip round the area and I would tell her stories about different people.

"And she used to say, 'what's in the water around Kilcreggan that that happens?'

"It was nice for me to go down. I'm a widow and live on my own so it was nice the two of us could have a nice talk. She was a very good listener, and advisor as well."

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Elaine says: "I think my mum would say she got the chance to talk to Irene on her own, away from family, to tell you things that she wouldn't tell us. Nothing bad.

"And she got the joy of Irene coming in and telling her about sheep shit in the garden.  "That's a bad word by the way."

"I know, don't put that," Irene tells me. "I wondered if I should say that but she burst out laughing. And she said 'tell Elaine about the sheep shit'. I got so angry with sheep coming in the garden.

"That sort of broke the ice as well, meaning I could say nearly anything to your mum. Within reason."

Visiting Friends started in Helensburgh in 2013 and became a charity in 2018 thanks to a wealty benefactor.

They match volunteers for visits or phone calls, and pride themselves on getting pairings that benefit everyone.

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Jayne told the Advertiser: "Irene and Elaine are the sort of volunteers that make our job a privilege!

"Our befrienders are some of the kindest people we have ever met. Each one brings something unique to their friend and by extension to Visiting Friends.

"What they don’t always realise is how much of a difference they make to the people they befriend – but we know this because our clients tell us.

"These benefits can be present from the beginning of a new friendship to the one that has been going for many years. We always say that befriending isn’t rocket science – it’s simple kindness, and our volunteers have it in spades."

Elaine and Ann

Kathleen passed away at the age of 100 but during Covid, when there were restrictions on those attending funerals. Irene was invited because she was part of the family.

And after a bit of time, Elaine considered becoming a befriender herself.

Jayne and Debbie went through questions such as whether Elaine wanted to visit a man or a woman.

"Did you get offered a man," interrupts Irene.

"I did get offered a man."

"I never got offered a man."

"Ah well they knew your reputation," fires Elaine. "They know a man's safe with me."

Elaine was matched with Ann, a former ballroom dancer to Elaine's line dancer.

"Ann hadn't wanted a befriender," explains Elaine. "It was her sister that set the ball rolling.

"Ann had taken lockdown badly and lost all her confidence and wasn't wanting to go out.

"The day I met Ann was like the same day Irene met my mum.

"It was like we'd known each other and now she's also like a best friend.

"Visiting Friends say two hours. But Ann and I are like four hours."

Irene laughs again: "It was never two hours."

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"I say to Ann I think this was a match made in heaven," says Elaine. "And she'll say 'I am so so glad'. Just a year we've been together."

The friendships Irene and Elaine found, with each other, and with the friends they visited, are moments of the week they look forward to.

"Wednesday, that's the day I see Ann," says Elaine. "I call it my happy day."

"Oh that's nice - I didn't know that," says Irene.

"I see Ann, then I go dancing in Cove, and then I go back to the pub. I know that's my day we're going to have such a nice time."

"It's a purpose you've got," agrees Irene. "It makes you feel good. It's a feel-good thing helping someone."

"It's just so good for both of us. Ach she's smashing," chimes Elaine. "It's probably the most worthwhile thing I have done."

Irene adds: "If you're able, if you can talk, just go and do it."

- If anyone 18 years or older would like to find out more about befriending, please get in touch with Jayne or Debbie on 01436 269 336.