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How befriending service can give something back

CONNOR Denholm needs little prompting to talk about the value of friendship.

support: Befriending co-ordinator Jon Anderson with 14-year-old Connor Denholm at the Lomond Crescent Centre, Stirling. Picture: Steve Cox
support: Befriending co-ordinator Jon Anderson with 14-year-old Connor Denholm at the Lomond Crescent Centre, Stirling. Picture: Steve Cox

The 14-year-old's friend in this case is a 51-year-old, Paul McGurk.

Mr McGurk is a volunteer befriender with Aberlour Child Care Trust's Befriending Service in Stirling. It supports children and young people aged between eight and 16 who may be going through a difficult period in their lives.

"Paul's a really nice guy," says Connor, who lives in the St Ninians district of Stirling. "I like being in his company. He's become more of a friend than a befriender, really. I usually see him once a week, after school on Wednesday. I've learned a lot from him."

Co-ordinator Jon Anderson says of the befriending process: "Because it's a long-term relationship, we wouldn't automatically put the first young person through with the first befriender through. We try to match them up in terms of hobbies and interests, so they have something in common that the relationship can build on.

"Connor and Paul are both into fishing. Paul works in catering, and we knew that Connor is into baking, so that was a good match. They've baked things together in our kitchens here, and when the better weather comes back, they'll be able to go out fishing."

It also helps if befriender and youngster can introduce their own different interests.

"The great thing about it is that the volunteers give their time for nothing," Jon adds. "This makes a big difference in their relationship with young people – it's not paid staff who are doing this. There is no question about the motivation factor."

Connor enjoys making cakes, truffles and toffee. "Paul and I made a massive cake a couple of weeks ago for my sister, and she was really happy with it," he says. "We've played golf and pool together and went to the cinema to see Skyfall and Total Recall. l hope it's a long-term relationship, because we get on well and he's good to talk to. I enjoy it, and I hope Paul enjoys it as much as I do."

If Connor needs to contact Paul during the week, he can ring up the centre and be put through to him.

Befriending relationships at the service's base in Cornton are supported and monitored by the befriending staff team. The aim is to enhance the quality of young people's lives by promoting their welfare and personal development through group activities including social, educational, cultural and environmental awareness.

Supported by the volunteers, youngsters such as Connor can also gain a sense of achieve-ment through qualifications, accredited by the Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network.

Dave Stewart, 55, is a volunteer befriender at Stirling. He has two sons in their 20s, and "semi-retired three or four years ago" from a career in sales and business development. He wanted to do "something pro-active with my time," and his work at Aberlour is one of the results of that. "It's great," he says. "You really feel as if you're giving something back, as if you're making a wee bit of a difference."

l Visit www.aberlour.org.uk. The service phone number is 01786 461334.

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