Val Strawson, VSM, Rampton High Secure Hospital

Rampton Befrienders began officially in 1997 and the very first volunteer was already a Chaplaincy visitor and she was asked to visit a newly arrived patient.  She was taken to see him, and he spoke such broad Scottish that she couldn’t understand him so went home to get her husband, who was Scottish so they could have a conversation!  What a long way we have come since those simple unregulated days! That lady continued visiting for many years bringing her dogs with her, bringing much joy to many patients. There is still one lady visiting from the very first training course in 1997 and she has no plans to stop seeing the chap she has been seeing since 2002, she really is the most important person in his life.

The scheme was able to start through the League of Friends applying for a Department of Health grant – Opportunities for Volunteering – and a Volunteer Coordinator was employed, and the rest is history. My involvement began also with a grant for D o H to recruit black and minority ethnic befrienders and when the promoted to manager retired, I was lucky enough to get her job, and here I still am.

In the intervening years many befrienders have come and gone but there is a hard core who stay for many years and now there are 31 trained and experienced volunteers, with 6 in training, visiting 38 patients as some see more than one patient. Befrienders are now pen pals to their patients due to Covid-19, some writing to other isolated patients which may continue once the pandemic is over.

Some quotes from Befrienders –

I have been visiting my patient now for a few years. To begin with it was a real challenge to hold a conversation for an hour, however now, I feel like we chat freely for the whole hour.  2 hours would prove too difficult, so to end on a high note after an hour is a positive. I hope my visits help my patient to socialise, although by his own admission he is not a sociable character. Hopefully he looks forward to my visits, I certainly enjoy my visits, I feel like I am helping someone who has no one else in his life, and I hope it helps him move forward and remain positive for his future.”

“I have had another year of enjoying my visits to my patient in Rampton Hospital, which included a special time on his birthday. We both look forward to our time together when we share a cup of tea, cake and chat about many things including our joint sponsoring of a guide dog puppy.”

Quotes from patients-

“Something to look forward to” “Talking to someone outside of the hospital is beneficial for the patients.” “Having a volunteer befriender can improve mental health.” “It provides a friendly face.” “They bring the outside in”

Quotes from ward staff –

“The patients can learn to communicate and develop skills with others.” “Having a befriender can help the patients understand about community life.” “Having a befriender is a supportive measure and gives an external positive influence.” “It is an event to look forward to.” It helps the patients to build social skills and make new relationships.” “A befriender helps the patients feel valued and included and reduces their isolation.” “This enables patients to have support should they not be in contact with their friends or family.” “It provides a further support network beyond the hospital staff.” “A befriender provides companionship for the patients which reduces social isolation and helps them to develop new relationships and the opportunity to participate with social activities. It helps to develop their confidence.” “Patients who have been at the hospital for a long period of time benefit from meeting and regularly speaking to a person with current experience of life outside of Rampton.  This is particularly helpful for those who do not often have visitors.” “When some patients have supportive families and others see that it is difficult for them to reconcile themselves with, in terms of isolation and self-esteem.  Many of our patients have issues relating to trust and abandonment.  The befriender service can aid with that sense of belonging, feeling wanted, that someone different if interested in them.  It also gives them another opportunity to talk about neutral subjects.  It is something they look forward to.”

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