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Mentoring and befriending as a volunteer

Not everyone has a family or friend support network that they can rely on for guidance and advice to help them through difficult times. Volunteers can help fill this gap by offering their free time and providing support.

What is mentoring and befriending?

Mentoring and befriending is a one-to-one, non-judgemental relationship where you volunteer your time to support and encourage someone. Many people benefit from the support of a mentor/befriender at a time of change in their life or when they are socially isolated due to illness or old age. Many volunteers will help over a long period of time, helping to build trust and a relationship. People who need guidance and help come from all walks of life and ages, from teenagers through to the elderly.

Examples of mentoring/befriending projects include:

  • community befriending scheme for isolated older people
  • peer mentoring -students will support and mentor their peers
  • community mentors support excluded young people: local mentors are matched with young people nine to 16 years old entering the criminal justice system
  • community mentors support school pupils: community mentors give support to primary school and transition pupils
  • e-mentoring - company mentors give support to local school students through regular email contact

You can find more information on the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation website.

How do you volunteer?

You should be prepared to dedicate a certain amount of your free time and energy, show a lot of commitment and be a good listener. As a volunteer mentor, you are there to encourage and support someone, not teach or police them.

For more information about various volunteering and mentoring opportunities, visit the Volunteer Now website. You can also find out more about the local voluntary sector via the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) website. NICVA is the umbrella body for voluntary and community organisations in Northern Ireland.

Case study

One of the best ways to find out about volunteering is to read case studies of people who already give their time.


Catherine has been a volunteer befriender for four years. She visits Kathleen, an older woman each week. Catherine thoroughly enjoys the time they spend together. She was attracted to this role as, through her work as a councillor, she is aware that so many vulnerable people are in need of help.

Catherine says: “I love the fact that I can break the pattern of loneliness for Kathleen and offer her companionship. Our relationship has evolved over the years, so much so that when a relative phoned recently whilst I was there she told them that her 'friend' was visiting!”

“I feel that volunteering offers me a great balance in my life and gives me the opportunity to make a positive impact on someone else’s life.”

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