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 or 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 and befriending projects include:

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

You can find more information from the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation.

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.

Your local volunteer centre has more information about volunteering and mentoring opportunities. You can also find out more about the local voluntary sector via the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA). NICVA is the umbrella body for voluntary and community organisations in Northern Ireland.

Case study

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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