‘My upbringing instilled in me that you should always put other people before yourself’

Now I’m 80, I can say with some authority that my experiences have instilled in me a belief that you should always make the most of your time, and always put others before yourself.

This is what led me to become a befriender. I was brought up with such a sense of community and neighbourliness that we’d be there with a cup of tea before the people moving in across the road had even unpacked their van. I enjoyed a varied career as a sportsman, a commissioned Officer in the RAF and a qualified Chef and felt I couldn’t just sit around when I retired. While many of my friends spend their day watching TV, I need to do something meaningful with my time, and I feel my volunteering work has kept me alert and given me a sense of purpose.

I’m one of three men that befriend at the Chandler’s Ford centre, but only about 20% of the people we see here are men, so we’ve still got a long way to go to get men to open up about their feelings. In my experience, women who need support have no problem talking to a man, and in fact, sometimes I can offer a different perspective. I think the most important thing about being a befriender is the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes. For someone living with cancer, just mustering the courage to walk into the centre can be hard, so I never underestimate the value of being a friendly face who will extend a warm welcome, listen and understand.  It can also be incredibly helpful just to have someone impartial to talk to, away from your circle of family and friends.       

I feel that communities and families have fragmented since I was young. We’re not as close as we used to be and it’s easy to feel isolated in times of need. That’s why befriending is such an important volunteering role.