‘They’ve all lived fascinating lives’: The ex-social worker whose ‘befriending’ service helps the elderly and lonely

A retired social worker is still giving back to her community by “befriending” older, isolated people.

Lesley Hannabuss, 73, from Hazel Drive, Erith, started befriending people in 2014, of the eight people she befriends many are stuck at home with no one to talk to, or are living by themselves far from friends or family.

Ms Hannabuss said: “I’ve been volunteering since I was young in one way or another, dipping my toes into different things that interest me.

“When I retired, I had more time on my hands and decided to find a new volunteering opportunity.

“I was drawn to befriending as I find it easy to talk to people and I’m a good listener.”

Valerie Smith, 73, from Claston Close, Crayford, is of  Lesley’s befriendees (Picture: L&Q)

Every week, Ms Hannabuss speaks to three befriendees over the phone and visits three in person.

She also visits a lady who is in her nineties every six weeks and has a monthly call with a previous befriendee who moved up north.

Ms Hannabuss’s matches have lasted for years, which she says is down to the time she devotes to each of her befriendees.

She said: “I was brought up by my grandmother and father, so I have things in common with people from older generations.

“They’ve all lived fascinating lives, with many affected by World War Two.

“Listening to their stories makes me wish I listened to my parents more.”

 Covid-19 caused a huge rise in people feeling lonely, especially those who live alone.  

Ms Hannabuss said: “I did daily check-ins over the pandemic and supported people over the phone.

“Where I could, in line with the restrictions, I chatted to my befriendees in person and from a distance, standing in their garden whilst they sat at their doorstep.

“People were very frightened, and it seemed to help.”

Now eight years in, Ms Hannabuss reflects on the impact her work has on the community.

She said: “Eight years in, I’ve learnt befriending makes a tremendous difference to people.

“We live in a different world. When I was young, families didn’t move far away from each other.

“What befriending offers that family members sometimes can’t is time to just listen.

“Rather than having to focus on the practical side of things, I’m able to simply sit with them, ask them how their week has been and how they are feeling.”

Ms Hannabuss is a L&Q resident and sits on her social landlord’s South East regional committee and stepped in as chair during the pandemic.

Pictured top: Lesley Hannabuss (Picture: L&Q)

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