A community volunteer scheme, which had to be stopped at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, is now thriving online, with the organiser encouraging more people to come forward to meet growing demand, as many disabled people continue to have to stay indoors.
‘Sense Buddying’, run by the national disability charity Sense, matches a young disabled person with a volunteer to spend time in the local community doing activities. With one in two (53%) disabled people experiencing loneliness, rising to three quarters (77%) of young disabled people, the scheme has been praised for its role in tackling social isolation in society, by bringing disabled and non-disabled people together.
The scheme, which operates in the east London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hackney and Redbridge, moved to video-chat during the pandemic, with volunteers asked to meet their buddies online rather than in person.
Over 70 buddies currently meet regularly online and will continue to do so as the country comes out of the lockdown, with many of the young people experiencing underlying health conditions.
The charity now hopes that the move online will encourage more people to volunteer to become a buddy and help meet the growing need of families.
Anya Rakoczi, Development Manager Sense, said:
“Lockdown has been especially hard for some families of disabled children and young people, dealing with the intense pressure of caring, as support such as education, therapies and respite have been reduced.
“We’ve seen demand for our service grow and we hope now that it is being delivered online that the ease and accessibility of the format will encourage more young people to volunteer.
“It’s a great opportunity to get to know someone from beyond your circle of friends in a safe and supported environment.”
15-year-old Siahan Islam, from Mile End in East London, is matched with 24-year-old Maria Atanasoaei.
Saihan Islam said:
“Having a volunteer Buddy is really important to me. Maria is someone that I can talk to outside of my family which is really nice when I am feeling anxious. She is always really kind and helpful. Also, I learn a lot with her. I still get worried about things from time to time but Maria helps me take my mind off things.”
To volunteer, please get in touch with the Buddying Team by emailing Buddying@sense.org.uk