A VOLUNTARY organisation that provides friendship and care to vulnerable people has highlighted the need for its services, particularly during the festive period.

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The Sudbury-based Befriending Scheme, which offers Suffolk-wide drop-in centres and one-to-one friendship for people with mental health needs, older people and those with learning difficulties, has just launched a new website to make it easier for help to be accessed.

The charity is also urging people to make time for lonely or vulnerable Suffolk residents, especially over Christmas and New Year.

According to the organisation Friends of the Elderly, 500,000 older people spend Christmas Day on their own in the UK.

Many who are struggling to cope with escalating heating bills are facing a cold, lonely festive season this year.

In a survey carried out by the charity, almost one in four people questioned admitted they would not be including elderly relatives, neighbours or community members in their seasonal celebrations – and around 44% said it was because they didn’t have enough time.

Befriending Scheme chief executive Shirley Moore said a few hours a month of a volunteer’s time could make an enormous difference to a vulnerable person’s life.

“The people we provide services for often don’t have any family, which means that at a time like Christmas, they are likely to be very much alone,” she said.

“When we link people with a befriender, it can be life-changing and particularly so at this time of year.

“Without our volunteers, many vulnerable people would remain isolated and lonely.”

Lesley Gibson started visiting the Sudbury befriending hub after suffering bouts of depression and a nervous breakdown.

The 55-year-old, who also has learning difficulties, said she looked forward to the weekly befriending sessions, adding: “I enjoy going to the hub because you can just chat one-to-one and there’s no back-biting. You couldn’t ask for a better group of people.”

Marjorie Bush, 63, from Ipswich, has been a volunteer befriender with the scheme for the past seven years. She helps at the Ipswich hub every week, and with two women on a one-to-one basis.

She said: “I have one lady who I go and sit with while her parents go out and another who I take to bingo.

“I became a befriender because I found myself on my own with time to spare. I have to say it has given me a purpose and an interest, so it has improved my life too.”

To become a befriender, visit www.thebefriendingscheme.org.uk for more details.

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