More than 20 young people from a sixth-form college have begun befriending elderly residents at a care home in Norfolk following training to be the first ‘YOPEY Befrienders’ since the pandemic.
The 22 16 to 19-year-olds, all girls, from East Norfolk Sixth Form College met residents at St Augustine’s Place housing with care in Addison Road for the first of what is planned to be many visits over the coming months.
The manager of St Augustine’s, Danielle Bullent, said: “Everyone was overwhelmed with emotion, seeing the YOPEY Befrienders interact with our tenants. The smiles and joy they created was a pleasure to witness. We cannot wait to have the students visiting regularly to develop their intergenerational friendships with our tenants.”
The sixth-formers’ teacher, Ellie Symonds, said: “For a lot of the students, this was their first experience in a care home, and with speaking with people who have dementia.
“Lots of stories and fun moments were shared between the students and the residents. Photos were shown of pets and stories were told of hobbies.”
Lucy Vincent, an employer engagement coordinator at the Gorleston college, said: “The opportunity for students to volunteer at St Augustine’s will be very valuable to their subjects and future applications to university and apprenticeships.
“Students will now be able to visit the residents in their free lessons and take part in St Augustine’s weekly group activities to build up a record of volunteering
The young people were trained to be ‘YOPEY Befrienders’ by Tony Gearing MBE, the founder of the Suffolk charity YOPEY, which is based near Newmarket and runs befriending schemes between sixth forms and care homes throughout East Anglia.
The scheme between East Norfolk Sixth Form College and St Augustine’s is the first visiting YOPEY Befriender scheme that YOPEY has started since before the pandemic.
Tony said: “I believe our Befrienders are unique and give more benefit to elderly people living in care homes because they are young. Most other befriending schemes use the middle-aged to visit the old-aged. While you would think the two older generations would have more in common, the elderly love to hear about the young’s lives and give advice to people embarking on their adult lives.”
Tony added: “There is also the issue of dementia. A lot of residents in care homes have Alzheimer’s or other dementia diseases. We train YOPEY Befrienders not to be judgemental and to ‘live in the moment’. We have evidence from care professionals that our young volunteers relax residents and reduce their anxiety.
“YOPEY Befriender schemes have contributed to care homes being upgraded by the Care Quality Commission.”
For young people, who cannot take part in a visiting YOPEY Befriender scheme, YOPEY offers the opportunity to ‘virtually’ support the lonely elderly by writing letters, making activities and shooting videos that are shared by the charity with hundreds of care homes UK-wide.