Bromsgrove & Redditch Welcome Refugees is a community group of people offering welcome and support to Syrian refugees locally.
When the refugees arrive, our aim is to offer ongoing friendship, support and encouragement, show them around and help them assimilate into our community and that’s where our volunteer Befrienders come in…….
What BRWR Befrienders do?
Befriending is a service offered by BRWR to refugees in the Bromsgrove and Redditch area.
Befrienders commit themselves to meeting a refugee (or a family) regularly, initially once a fortnight.
The aim is to offer social support and to develop a mutually rewarding relationship.
Often refugees arriving here in the UK have been through trauma and huge emotional turmoil.
They can be depressed, isolated and in need of social interaction. They may need help and support to understand our language and culture. Befriending seeks to address these issues through regular social interaction.
Befriending offers a service of additional emotional and relational support.
Every befriending relationship is unique as the needs of each refugee varies and the time and commitment that volunteers can offer also varies.
However, in general terms befriending may include:
- Welcome and friendship;
- Listening, which should never ever be underestimated, and which is a great gift;
- Helping with conversational English – if people are to be integrated into British society they need to communicate well. We are not asking volunteers to be ESOL teachers, but as many refugees may speak very little English outside of their college course or may have no access to a college course; Befrienders can provide a great opportunity to practise. There are some ideas for conversation at the end of this document; ‘What can we can talk about?’
- Building trust – but remembering that trust may have been shattered in their home country through the actions of others, so this can take time;
- Helping the refugee to find services, e.g. ESOL classes, sports facilities, places of worship or where to shop.
- Going to appointments with refugees, e.g. a medical appointment, interview with benefits agency etc…
- Taking action, e.g. making a phone call i.e. phoning a housing provider about a repair job.
Befriending is not counselling.
If you think the refugee you befriend needs counselling, please always discuss this with the Befriending Co-ordinator to consider whether they could be referred to a service that uses trained counsellers with experience in refugee issues e.g. Freedom from Torture or RSVP (Rape and Sexual Violence Project).
In the first instance a self-referral or a GP referral to Worcestershire Healthy Minds (NHS service) may help.
Another resource which may be useful is; www.mindfulnessinarabic.org
Your Befriending role may include mentoring – but what’s the difference?.
Mentoring tends to be more task and goal oriented, e.g. equipping refugees for work, volunteers may help refugees towards the goal of being more job-ready.
Mentoring is about being a trusted advisor.
Befriending is primarily relational.
However BRWR would like their volunteers to take on both roles if they are willing and have the skills and ability to do so. This will be discussed with you first so that we can make an appropriate match for you.
In these guidelines, rather than writing ‘Befriender or mentor’ every time, we only use the word ‘Befriender’.
Here are some examples of the sort of mentoring work you might be involved in;
- Mentoring a refugee to become more job-ready;
Assistance with English skills can be important, particularly written English. Even for those with excellent spoken English, written skills are not at the same level. This is a significant barrier when faced with employment recruitment processes, which usually require a CV or written application form before spoken English skills can be displayed at an interview. A mentor can give great assistance in checking for grammatical and spelling errors. Meeting to go through the handouts or optional homework and helping to explore issues and explain terms that were not fully understood can be helpful.
- An interest in the mentee’s wider life is also important. The journey towards employment can be long, slow and frustrating for your refugee, especially if they worked in a professional capacity or ran their own business in their home country, so the encouraging support of a mentor can help them to see how far they have progressed rather than getting stuck on how far there is to go.
- Mentoring a refugee to overcome their fear of going out; talking to the refugee about the local area, the local customs and expectations, showing photographs of places you have chosen to visit, working out the route to get there, accompanying them on the route for the first few times and then stepping back a bit by letting them go part of the way on their own but meeting them at an agreed point. This may take some time but it is important to go at their pace, and use agreed goals with them.
- Helping them manage their money. ( This role is a sensitive one and needs to be undertaken only with the full knowledge and agreement of the Befriender Co-ordinator. Details of the advice given and any actions undertaken by the Befriender need to be fully recorded so that any misunderstandings can be addressed and any possible concerns about financial abuse can be resolved quickly.)
What refugees say about befriending services
Refugees who have used befriending services like ours say;
“Befrienders are excellent at providing the invisible things like just showing you around, being a friend, providing company, giving you a feeling of normal life.”
It is important to remember that befriending is a unique, supportive relationship and as such is different from a friendship, which starts up ‘naturally’ between two people.
It is a 3-way relationship, which starts when contact is made with BRWR.
BRWR then facilitates the befriending support. Whilst that support is one-to-one, BRWR remains a third member of the relationship offering other services to the refugee and support and advice to the volunteer.
Please read BRWR’s Friendship Statement which will give details about how you as a Befriender will work with and gain support from the BRWR friendship coordinator and Friendship group.
Some of the important qualities and responsibilities of being a BRWR Befriender or mentor are;
- Willingness to listen
- Warmth and encouragement
- Reliability, e.g. keeping to arrangements whenever possible even when your refugee tends to let you down (there may be good reasons for their lack of punctuality)
- Accountability, e.g. working within the BRWR guidelines and willingness to feedback to BRWR
- A non-judgmental attitude
- Respecting the culture and religion of others
- Empathy, i.e. seeing things from the other person’s point of view
- Sensitivity, e.g. to the specific circumstances of the refugee
- Honesty, e.g. about your motives for befriending and what you hope to get out of the relationship
- An ability to build trust
- Accepting that you do not need to know everything and therefore not prying unnecessarily. Willingness to step back when appropriate, to encourage independence.
- A willingness to take action when appropriate and when agreed by the refugee.
BRWR also hope that their volunteer Befrienders will show;
- Openness to the vision and aims of BRWR
- Commitment to befriending for at least six months
- Commitment to liaise with the Befriending Co-ordinator
- Commitment to attend ongoing training and Befriending Meetings for additional support and input
- Willingness to help to refer to appropriate agencies, e.g. when professional advice is being sought by the refugee or to ask BRWR for advice on contacting other agencies.
Protect yourself- consider your limits and boundaries as a BRWR volunteer Befriender.
Please remember that you are a volunteer from a community charitable organisation and your role is to offer some friendship and emotional support.
You are not expected to be ‘on-call’ 24/7. (We are not running a statutory service or an emergency service, we are facilitating services of additional support). So please remember that you are a volunteer adding something extra to your refugee’s social life.
You are not a statutory service!
Please remind yourself that you are not their GP, counsellor, social worker, etc. You are offering something different and should not take on these roles.
A Befriender is offering general support not professional advice.
You are not responsible for the plight that the refugee find themselves in nor are you responsible for finding solutions to things beyond your control.
There are decisions made by your refugee or for your refugee over which you have no control.
The following quote from a Befriender highlights this:
“It’s great to know I can make a difference in someone’s life just by being available although it’s important always to remember not to get too involved. I am not personally responsible for the course of their life and the decisions either they make or those which are made for them.”
How to start your befriending role
The Befriender Co-ordinator will visit any new refugees and try to build up a picture of their personality, circumstances, needs, interests as best they can. They will also receive your profile and consider your skills, interests and experience and then they can match you to a refugee.
This is not a fool proof arrangement, there will be a lot of gaps in our knowledge about individuals, particularly the refugees, because of language and translation difficulties and because it may take them some time to trust us after the traumas they have been through.
At an initial visit, between the Befriending Co-ordinator and the refugee, we try to explain that befriending is not about legal advice, benefits or housing but for general support or extra company and help with English. And whilst we try to explain befriending, where a client has limited English they may not fully understand or they may hear words like ‘friend’ and put their own interpretation on that. At the introductory meeting with you, the refugee and Co-ordinator, it is helpful to explain how often and for how long the you are offering to meet the refugee and that this contact (Via BRWR) will be time limited, as the aim is for the refugee to become independent and fully integrated into their community.
Bear in mind that your refugee may have a very limited understanding of the Befriender’s role
BRWR have prepared a leaflet for refugees explaining the role of the Befriender which is translated into Arabic- if you feel they are confused about your role, please remind them to read this again. Any further concerns do contact the Befriender Co-ordinator.
Be patient- remember- they have not attended a training course on how to be a refugee or manage their Befriender!
So, before starting your befriending, it is important that you consider setting appropriate boundaries, e.g. your time commitment and where you will meet. These matters are raised further in later sections of these guidelines.
Through your involvement with BRWR you may know of places where they can get additional help. Following discussion and agreement with the Befriender Co-ordinator and with the refugee’s permission do signpost them to people who can help professionally, if appropriate.
Visiting – how often?
BRWR is looking for a commitment from each Befriender to meet the person they befriend about once a fortnight. We would suggest that you start meeting once a fortnight and if you discover that you have more time, then you can increase it at a later date. Also, if visits are too frequent then there is a danger that dependency could develop on either side of the relationship.
We are aiming to provide additional support and to help increase integration into society not dependency on one person.
Please also remember that if you start meeting weekly and then reduce the frequency of meetings this may send mixed messages to the client.
There may be points of crisis in the refugee life when more frequent contact may be helpful – if the volunteer has time for that. More frequent contact could be via phone if meeting up is not feasible. If your refugee needs extra support during a crisis, please contact the BRWR Befriender Co-ordinator.
Over time your refugee may become more settled, build other friendships and start other activities so s/he has less time to meet up with you. It may be that they gain employment and the knock on effect may be that they don’t have time to meet or feel the need to meet anymore. It may then be appropriate to reduce the frequency of meetings and to consider withdrawing altogether- after all our aim is that the refugee becomes fully integrated, settled and independent.
Visiting – where?
You are encouraged to meet the refugee at his/her own home address or at a ‘neutral public venue’, should they have the means to get there. A ‘neutral public venue’ could be a café, museum or similar.
If you visit the refugee in their home- please remember that you are their guest and should behave as such.
If your refugee is in hospital they may welcome visits from you, but you need to check this with them.
There is no expectation from BRWR that any meetings take place in your own home.
In order to create a boundary for yourself, this is something that BRWR would discourage, especially in the early stages of a befriending relationship. This is to avoid your refugee just dropping in or having more frequent visits than you wish to commit to. It also acknowledges that home environments vary and those you live with may wish to maintain boundaries too.
However, if over a long period of time trust develops on both sides of the befriending relationship then you may wish to review the use of your home. We know of several longer term befriending relationships where this has worked well. But this is not an expectation and many befriending relationships work well without the volunteer ever opening up their own home.
As you get to know your refugee there may be places you could take them to, to add some variety to their life, to take them out of their living space and to give you more to talk about.
See BRWR’s leaflets “Where to go” and “What to do” for more ideas.
Your feelings are important too, so only agree to take part in activities you are comfortable with, and only for as long as you feel happy doing so.
Visiting – Lone working
(Please also read BRWR’s separate policy document on lone working
We recognise that volunteers are generally working alone and sometimes travelling to unfamiliar areas. It is, therefore, important to be aware of safety issues, especially in the early development of the relationship.
We would not knowingly make a match with someone who was a risk to the volunteer,but we do not know everything about each individual referred to us.
It is important that someone knows when and where you will be visiting.
Much befriending occurs outside office hours and it is not feasible for BRWR’s Befrienders Co-ordinator to monitor Befriender’s visits in such a way.
We therefore suggest that the Befriender (with the refugee’s permission) informs a family member or a friend about where they are going, who they will see and what time they expect to be finished. Then on completion of the visit the volunteer lets that person know that they have left and all is well.
If the volunteer does not make contact at the expected end of the visit then there will be someone who knows where to start looking for you!
This procedure is suggested so that we can do all we can to keep volunteer Befriender’s safe. If anything arises that gives concern for your personal safety, please contact the BRWR Befriender Co-ordinator, Safeguarding lead or if it is of a more urgent nature, please contact the emergency services.
What can we talk about?
Meeting with someone who has limited English can be one of the greatest challenges of befriending. It can be hard work for both the Befriender and the refugee. It can be difficult tuning into the accent of your refugee. However, helping people with conversational English is of great benefit to help them to integrate, find work and obtain services.
Every refugee family has been given a picture dictionary by BRWR. It could be useful for you to use this.
Here is a selection of ideas to get conversation going or to open up new topics for conversation.
Here’s a comment from a Befriender who has previously used this section:
“I think it is a very useful document and one that I referred to a lot in the early weeks of meeting when English was poor and I needed things to talk about and ways of developing a relationship.”
- What have they done since you last saw them?
Language – If the refugee is studying English, you might want to ask what they are learning in their lessons?
If the refugee’s English is quite poor, you could help them practise English by teaching them essential phrases that might be useful in their everyday life. You could also encourage them to use these phrases when you’re out and about together. For example, this might be when you:
Are buying a bus ticket, or any other kind of ticket;
Need to ask for or give directions;
Need to ask for or tell the time;
Are in a café, choosing refreshments.
You can also help build up the refugee’s English vocabulary simply by pointing out what you can see around you and giving them the name of specific objects/sites. This might be in the context of the home, where your refugee would like to know the English names of various kitchen appliances, furniture or baby equipment etc.
Some refugees may not yet know how to read the bus or train timetables, they also may not be able to recognise or read signs that we take for granted. This is also something you may want to explain and help with.
- Food – from UK and their country (We once heard a refugee comment that he thought all that British people ate was fish and chips and burgers, because that was what take-always sold!)
- Family – be sensitive as this could be a very painful issue if people have lost, or are separated from, family members. If this is an area where you can develop conversation then consider sharing family photos as this can be a helpful non-wordy way of sharing our lives with each other, especially in the initial stages or where English is limited.
- Cultural celebrations e.g. Christmas, Father Christmas, Christmas trees, Guy Fawkes, Shrove Tuesday, Good Friday, Easter eggs, Bank Holiday. And what about the celebrations in their own culture, country and faith?
- Politics – if the client is from a political background they may be interested in how politics works here in Britain. Questions we’ve heard: What power does the Queen have? What is the City Council responsible for? How many MPs are there? What does the House of Lords do?
- The Local area – How old is Worcester City/Stratford on Avon? Who was Shakespeare? What is a canal? What is Evesham famous for?
- Other parts of the world. Where they may have lived before coming here? What was it like? How is it similar or different from their country or here?
- What interests do they have? Sport? Films? TV? Reading? Craft? (If you share an interest – is there anything that you could do together e.g. we know of volunteers who include the person they befriend in playing football, or swimming.)
- Their country? (Please be sensitive. Are they from a town or a village in the countryside? How is it different from UK, e.g. climate? If this is a topic they want to talk about?) Could you get a map of their country to aid conversation?
- Their Faith? Please be sensitive if they have a different faith from your own or if their faith is the reason they were persecuted.
- Do they have any questions they want to ask you?
Bear in mind that if you go somewhere new it can generate conversation. Also if you are visiting a museum it not only generates new conversation but as there is something to look at and do, the pressure to talk all the time is reduced. So if conversation is difficult over a cup of coffee, try something more ‘active’. And we recognise that this is all even more challenging if their English skills are still developing.
Visiting – what can we do?
If the refugee is still learning English, then the time they spend with you can be very hard work as they seek to communicate in another language. (It can also be hard work for the volunteer as you try to use more simple English, or explain things that we generally take for granted.) So if every time you meet you sit facing each other over two cups of coffee trying to progress English conversation from the stage you reached 2 weeks earlier, it could get challenging and pressurised.
Perhaps try something more active, ie: go for a walk or visit a place of interest, which gives a shared experience that you can talk about, and there is less pressure to talk all the time. With help from existing Befrienders we have produced a document full of ideas, as a resource for new Befrienders and mentors to use called: ‘What can we do? Where can we go?’
If you discover other venues or activities, please let us know so we can add them to the resource.
Giving out personal information
Before being matched, think about whether or not you wish to share your phone number with the refugee. If you don’t want to pass on phone numbers you are encouraged to make arrangements with the refugee from one meeting to the next. All our refugee families have a communication book in their home and we ask that the Befriender uses this to make such arrangements.
However most Befrienders do give a phone number, often a mobile number. The advantage is that if either of you need to change the arrangement you have a means of contact and you can also double check that your refugee is planning to meet you before you set off yourself.
In some cases, a reminder is appreciated and saves you waiting because they have forgotten. (NB BRWR’s policy is not to give their home numbers to volunteer Befrienders or refugees – it is one of our boundaries. However, BRWR committee members give out their work mobile numbers freely). There is no need or expectation from BRWR to pass on your address because your refugee does not need it. If you have given a mobile number then
there is no need to give a land-line number as well (if you have one) – it is easier to set boundaries with a mobile that you can switch off, or monitor in-coming calls.
When considering befriending relationships, BRWR will usually only match male volunteers to ‘lone’ male refugees and female Befrienders to ‘lone’ female refugees. (NB ‘lone’ may mean the refugee is single/unmarried or that they are married but their spouse is not in the UK). Where a family is befriended, the Befriender may be male, female or a married couple – although in many cases as it is the wife who is more isolated or has more limited English, it will be a female volunteer. If a Befriender finds they are alone with a refugee of the opposite sex, great care and cultural sensitivity should be taken to ensure the refugee, their family and the Befriender are comfortable with the arrangement.
We strongly discourage the lending of money as this complicates the relationship. Those we work with have very limited resources and you would be creating a debt that they could have difficulty repaying.
The families are in receipt of benefits and additionally are supported by the Government’s Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme for 5 years from their arrival, so should not be in need of money for their daily living requirements.
However, families may require some support for additional items not considered under the government scheme.
BRWR have raised money to assist our refugee families in times of exceptional need. If you feel your refugee has such a need, please discuss with the befriending Co-ordinator to then submit a request to the Chair/Vice Chair for an exceptional need grant to be considered.
Money, gifts, food….
As mentioned earlier befriending is primarily about building a relationship.
If we start giving gifts or money on a regular basis then we skew the relationship further.
However, we do not want to crush generosity. Paying for coffee when you meet, or a present on a birthday are gestures which will be appreciated and will not be frequent enough or of sufficient size to create dependency.
When deciding what to do with your refugee, please be prepared to take into account that many refugees are living on limited support so if you suggest doing something that costs money then you should be prepared to pay for both of you.
BRWR can reimburse your travel costs and reasonable refreshments costs, if requested, with receipts, as we do not want to lose potential volunteers for financial reasons.
BRWR often receives donations of clothes and toys, so if you feel your refugee or their children could benefit, please let us know. There are other projects which offer clothes, shoes, baby equipment and some household goods where a refugee can be referred for assistance.
Nature of the relationship
Befrienders fulfil a supportive role.
At our training sessions we state that ‘the person you befriend may not become your next best friend’.
Lifelong friendship is not the goal.
However, we know that sometimes befriending relationships do develop into friendships. It is important to remember, though, that there is an in-built inequality in the relationship as refugees circumstances are far more circumscribed than their Befrienders.
Refugees may not necessarily speak their mind for fear of offending people, e.g. they may be reticent to share that they are now settled and no longer need the support of their Befriender.
The relationship between Befriender and refugee must not develop into a romantic or sexual relationship.
Confidentiality and the three-way relationship
BRWR recognises that at times it may be difficult not to discuss with friends and/or family how the befriending is going. It is possible, however, to talk in a general way without disclosing personal information about the person you are befriending. You can discuss with your Befriender Co-ordinator issues that concern you and how to guard against breaking the refugee’s trust/confidence.
As trust grows the refugee may confide in you. You may not need to ‘do’ anything with that information, offering a listening ear may be sufficient. As a result, while befriending you may at times hear upsetting details regarding the other person’s situation. We realise that there may be times when you yourself would benefit from ‘off-loading’ to the Befriender Co-ordinator.
Do not promise your refugee that you will keep secrets, because there may be times for the well-being of the refugee that you need to pass on information. If the well-being (physical or mental) of the refugee deteriorates to the extent that you fear they may be a risk to themselves or to others – please do not ignore it. Similarly, if you hear or observe anything which indicates they may be at risk from others, you must not ignore this.
In such circumstances, contact BRWR’s safeguarding lead for advice and update the Befriending Co-ordinator. However, if the matter is urgent and there is no answer, please do not wait before you take further action.
If they are already having counselling or medical treatment, for example, contact the professionals already involved and alert them to the current situation. It is essential to refer on to those who are trained and qualified to offer appropriate help. If you are not aware of any professionals already involved, consider whether it may be necessary to contact the emergency services or social care services (depending on the situation).
Please ensure that you inform and update the Befriender Co-ordinator about your concerns and any action that you have taken.
Safeguarding policies aim to protect both clients and volunteers. It is therefore essential that all volunteers adhere to BRWR safeguarding policies and procedures. (See separate document).
If befriending a family with children, you should ideally never be in a situation where you are left alone with a child. In the context of befriending with BRWR, babysitting is NOT an option. As the relationship develops there is a temptation to relax boundaries e.g. offering lifts to children without the parent or being with children for a short time while their parent pops to the shops. If anything went wrong both you and BRWR would be open to criticism and held responsible.
Child abuse is any action by another person – adult or child – that causes significant harm to a child. It can be physical, sexual or emotional, but can also be a lack of love, care and attention which can be equally damaging. An abused child will often experience more than one type of abuse, as well as other difficulties in their lives. It often happens over a period of time, rather than being a one-off event, and increasingly happens online.
For more information go to; https://www.npscc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect.
If you witness abuse of a child, if a child discloses abuse or if you have concerns about a child’s welfare you must act.
You should have the family’s consent before a referral is made to the council, unless doing so would increase the risk of significant harm.
- Write down what you saw or heard.
- Contact BRWR Safeguarding lead to discuss your concerns.
Please be aware that you may be able to prevent problems, where what was acceptable in the home culture is not acceptable here. E.g. someone may leave a child sleeping at home while they take other children to school – which may be fine in another country, but here would be viewed as neglect. So please be open to explaining what is appropriate behaviour here and explain when there could be serious consequences. Other preventative steps include helping your refugee to access local support services, e.g. children’s centre, health service or resource centre.
Abuse is any action that harms another person and includes the following: physical abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, financial abuse, modern slavery, neglect and self-neglect.
Our adult refugees are not automatically deemed ‘vulnerable’ just because they are an
refugee. Safeguarding duties apply to an adult who:
- has needs for care and support (e.g. due to disability, age, illness or substance use)
- is experiencing, or at risk of, abuse or neglect; and
- as a result of those care and support needs is unable to protect themselves from either the risk of, or the experience of abuse or neglect.
BRWR can usually only refer an adult to statutory services with the consent of the adult concerned. However, if any issue causes concern, please contact BRWR Safeguarding lead to discuss next steps, or if the situation requires an immediate response to safeguard the person, contact the emergency services (phone 999).
Safeguarding of volunteers
At no time will you knowingly be placed at risk from a potentially violent (physical or verbal) situation. This also applies to refugees. If you do find yourself in such a situation, please contact the BRWR Befriender Co-ordinator as soon as possible and if necessary the emergency services. Please also see the earlier section on lone working.
BRWR has an insurance policy that covers group activities and one-to-one befriending providing volunteers abide by the guidelines. However, if a volunteer offered to help beyond the expectations of befriending included in this document and agreed and recorded with the Befriender coordinator, e.g. if a volunteer offered legal advice, financial advice or tried to counsel a client, then they would not be covered by the BRWR insurance policy.
Insurance cover – use of your own car
It is not expected that you use your own car for befriending activities. However, should you decide to do so, e.g. to take someone to hospital or a family on an outing then you will need car insurance that covers volunteering. Also if you are transporting children (with their parents) then you must have appropriate child car seats or booster seats suitable for the children’s ages and size.
Supporting Volunteers in their befriending or mentoring
Support from BRWR
All volunteer Befrienders are required to have an enhanced DBS before starting their befriending role. The Befriending Co-ordinator can advise how to sort this out.
The first meeting with the person you befriend or mentor will be a 3-way introductory meeting between the BRWR Befriending Co-ordinator, the volunteer and the refugee. At this meeting you will arrange the next meeting, which will be one-to one between yourself and the refugee.
Please contact BRWR Befriending Co-ordinator after your first one-to-one visit to give some initial feedback either by phone or e-mail (using only initials to ensure confidentiality). Befrienders are then expected to maintain contact with the Befriender Co-ordinator. The purpose of this contact is to discuss how the befriending is going, the impact of the relationship on you, for us to ensure that appropriate boundaries are being kept and to identify any further support needs.
Please feel free to phone the BRWR Befriender Co-ordinator or e-mail them with any questions and they will get back to you as soon as is practicable.
One Befriender for a similar organisation has made the following helpful comment,
“The insistence that this is a 3-way relationship has been extremely important, so that I have never felt totally on my own but have the backing of the [organization].”
After you have been matched for about six months, we will contact you to review how things are going. The Befriender Co-ordinator will have a face-to-face meeting with you, to discuss how things are going and what we may be able to do differently to improve the experience for both the Befriender and the refugee.
The Befriender Co-ordinator may also contact your refugee to find out how things have been going. If there are no difficulties and you are both happy to continue, then the befriending relationship can continue. If there are issues on either side, then we will seek to help address these.
Very occasionally three-way meetings with the two of you and the BRWR Befriender Co-ordinator may be arranged if an issue arises that needs everyone’s involvement. No-one is ‘locked into’ a befriending/mentoring relationship indefinitely, especially if it is not working effectively.
Further support can be gained by attending BRWR’s Befriender meetings. BRWR Befriender Co-ordinators usually organise about 6 each year. These events provide formal and informal input and support. We also share resources produced by other agencies together with news of forthcoming BRWR and other events in the area. These meetings provide opportunities to meet other volunteer Befrienders, to learn from their experience and build informal support.
Life cycle of a befriending relationship
We recognise that it takes time and commitment from both of you to build a supportive relationship. At first you may feel anxious, which is normal. It is especially important to begin by meeting regularly as this helps you get to know each other. Initially you may only meet for a short period of time, e.g. up to an hour. Hopefully if all goes well, it will not be too long before you begin feeling more comfortable with each other. It is not unusual for a befriending relationship to be a bit hard going at first, particularly when befriending men. We encourage volunteers to persevere, but if after several meetings, you do not ‘click’ then please discuss the matter with the Befriending Co-ordinator. You are not ‘locked in’ to a relationship that will not flourish.
Most befriending relationships do not go on forever.
Befriending ends for a range of reasons including:
- the refugee moves,
- a Befriender is only doing some task orientated work ie: job preparation
- a Befriender is only available for a limited period of time, e.g. students
- the relationship ‘fizzles out’ when the refugee becomes more settled and needs less regular support. Sensitivity as to whether the relationship is really still needed and valued is required, as it is unlikely to be voiced openly by the refugee.
Hopefully the endings can be planned, so that neither a refugee nor a Befriender is left in limbo. If you intend to end a befriending relationship, please inform the BRWR Befriender Co-ordinator of your intentions and give some notice to your refugee.
In some cases, the refugee may have ongoing needs for many months or years and the relationship continues. In other cases, the original needs are resolved and the relationship changes: contact continues but at reduced frequency.
If the two of you decide that the relationship has moved from a befriending relationship to a friendship, and you both feel you no longer need structural support from BRWR, then, even though you still meet, BRWR end their befriending support to you and you will no longer be covered by BRWR relevant insurances.
The role of volunteers who help at Activity Events organised by BRWR is:
- To join the group at the ‘meeting point’ for the trip and to welcome and chat with the refugees some of whom may be at their first BRWR activity,
- To engage refugees in conversation giving them opportunities to practise their spoken English. Please start these conversations on neutral topics and please avoid asking probing questions.
- To help the participants to engage with the activity.
In conversations at these events, issues may be raised where the refugee needs help. We know that occasionally a refugee may suggest meeting up or ask a volunteer to do something for them. Volunteers are involved with BRWR because they want to help but that support needs to be offered under the knowledge and guidance of BRWR.
So that we keep to the 3-way relationship of BRWR, refugee and volunteer, we ask that volunteers do not take on issues for someone they don’t already befriend or offer to befriend a refugee without any reference to the key Befriender for that refugee and or BRWR Befriender Co-ordinator.
We also ask that volunteers do not swap phone numbers with a refugee to whom they have not been formally matched.
There are a number of reasons for this including:
- The BRWR Co-ordinators are likely to know more about the refugees and there may be reasons why we have decided not to provide a befriending relationship e.g. complex mental health needs.
- The refugee may already have a Befriender and someone else getting involved can cause confusion and duplication.
- It may be that a BRWR Committee member or Befriender is already dealing with the issue raised.
- It is not uncommon for some refugees to ask for help from other people when someone is already trying to address the issue. This can complicate matters e.g. if more than one person is challenging the benefits agency about a problem it could aggravate the situation and not help the client.
- We are aware that sometimes a volunteer really connects with someone at an activity and wants to develop that friendship. If the refugee or asylum seeker is not already befriended we would be willing to consider formalizing such a befriending relationship, but we can only do that if you talk to us first.
- If you meet a refugee in another setting, e.g. the refugee introduces you to one of their friends, and you feel that person would benefit from BRWR’s services, please contact a BRWR to make a referral.
- Please do not suggest they turn up to a men’s or women’s activity without contacting BRWR staff first because sometimes we have limited places available due to capacity of a venue, number of tickets available to us or the costs involved.
Thank you for your interest, time and commitment in Volunteering with BRWR .
We hope that both you and the refugee experience a fulfilling and mutually beneficial relationship that you both enjoy!