Softening Hearts and Assuaging Loneliness

Posted on 25th July 2016 by

Assuntina Susan and Naomi NCS

In June, we were bathed in the sunshine of publicity around the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service that was awarded to the Neighbourhood Care Scheme. This rather overshadowed the renewal of our Approved Provider Standard (APS) accreditation in April. This quality mark is not as glamorous as the Queen’s Award, nor does it lead to visits to Buckingham Palace. However, it is as important. Awarded by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), it certifies that we meet their criteria for the safe and effective provision of befriending support.

Here’s an extract from the assessor’s report:

“Having achieved the Approved Provider Standard three years ago, the Neighbourhood Care Scheme continues to provide safe and effective befriending support with the needs of its members at the forefront of its delivery. It has a well-organised and structured approach to dealing with vulnerable service users who are experiencing loneliness and isolation. There is clear evidence of relevant expertise and experience with the service manager and volunteer coordinators.

Empathic and supportive management focuses on the needs of staff, service users and volunteers. It was also clear that the organisation is keen to learn and develop, and that changes were being implemented in response to what was being learned, and in moving forwards in a competitive environment.”

It is very encouraging to have this positive external validation of our work. However, it is two remarks from a volunteer and a scheme member that really stood out for me in the report:

“I feel like it’s changed me quite a lot, I’m more confident, can deal with situations. It’s softened my heart and improved my wellbeing.”

— NCS Volunteer

“They’re a life saver – they assuage my loneliness to a very acute degree. There is something I could reach out for. They replace my need for medication, for the NHS.”

— NCS Scheme Member

I was very touched by the idea of volunteering with NCS softening someone’s heart; it chimes with the feeling I have that people need opportunities to exercise kindness, and that this kind of exercise is as good for you as the stuff you do in the gym.

With regard to the quote from the scheme member, it is very motivating for all of us at NCS to learn that what we do really can “assuage loneliness.”

This last quotation also made me laugh. At the end of my first year with NCS in 1999, I entitled my report “Just what the doctor ordered!” – which is what one of our scheme members had said of her volunteer. Seventeen years later: “They replace my need for medication, for the NHS.” It is great that now we are working more closely with GPs and other health professionals, who more generally recognise that for some maladies people are the best medicine.

Finally, it is ironic that the accreditation of our good practice is no time for self-congratulation. Rather, it makes us aware of all the things about our work that could be improved – every single one of our procedures. The APS Accreditation is not the end of a process, but more the beginning of a new round of improvement, during which we hope to soften many more hearts and assuage the loneliness of many more isolated people.

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