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‘Seeing or Meeting? Why being authentically part of a community should be more than just ‘getting out and about’ – and how volunteering helps

It’s easy to see people – but harder to meet them. When you’re out and about in your community, there are probably lots of people you recognise and say hello to. You might even feel that your neighbourhood is a really friendly place.

But what if you want to make real friendships, and not just acquaintances? And how much more difficult is this if you are a disabled adult?

Livability’s Share Your Story programme runs a series of workshops, for the people we support. Supportive of a range of communication needs, the workshops help people share their experiences, aspirations and opinions.

Through recent workshops, many people shared stories about ‘seeing’ people when they were out in their communities, but found that actually ‘meeting’ people was not so easy.

When going out to places where they might be able to make friends, like their local café or community centre, the people we support told us that they tend to remain observers rather than being authentically invited to join in. This can cause people to feel socially isolated.

How volunteering can help people meet – and not just see

When opportunities for making friends in our local communities are limited, it is vital that we devise new situations that can lead to friendship creation.

The value of volunteering can be just as positive for the volunteer.

Recent studies tell us that friendships are vital for our wellbeing and being part of a community is a deep human need. At Livability – that’s where volunteering comes into its own and can really make a difference.

Volunteers involved in befriending roles at our services can really help to combat the isolation that disabled people might experience. ‘We love it when people visit us,’ was sentiment asserted by more than one of the people that live at Livability York House.

The value of volunteering can be positive for the volunteer also. When Sue started coming to York House as a volunteer, she wasn’t expecting friendship to flourish. After the first visit, she told us, ‘I enjoyed everyone’s company so much and was so happy getting to know everybody’s stories, I wanted to come all the time!’

When an opportunity to join as a member of staff came up, she jumped at the chance. Because of her friends at the home, Sue wants to stay for as long as she can. ‘For me, this is a job for life. Everyone here is a friend, we are all friends together.’

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