Buddy scheme tackling loneliness for young disabled people in east London thriving online

Siahan Islam, from Mile End, was matched with 24-year-old Maria Atanasoaei. Picture: Sense

Siahan Islam, from Mile End, was matched with 24-year-old Maria Atanasoaei. Picture: Sense - Credit: Archant

A community volunteer scheme which had to be stopped at the outset of the pandemic, is now thriving online, with the organiser encouraging more people to come forward to meet growing demand.

Sense Buddying, run by the national disability charity Sense, matches a young disabled person with a volunteer to spend time in the community doing activities.

With one in two (53 per cent) disabled people experiencing loneliness, rising to three quarters (77pc) of young disabled people, the scheme has been praised for its role in tackling social isolation in society, by bringing disabled and non-disabled people together.

The scheme, which operates in Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hackney and Redbridge, moved online during the pandemic, with volunteers asked to meet their buddies virtually rather than in person.

More than 70 buddies currently meet regularly online and will continue to do so as the country comes out of the lockdown.

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The charity now hopes that the move online will encourage more people to volunteer to become a buddy.

Anya Rakoczi, development manager at Sense, said: “Lockdown has been especially hard for some families of disabled children and young people, dealing with the intense pressure of caring, as support such as education, therapies and respite have been reduced.

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“We’ve seen demand for our service grow and we hope now that it is being delivered online that the ease and accessibility of the format will encourage more young people to volunteer.

“It’s a great opportunity to get to know someone from beyond your circle of friends in a safe and supported environment.”

Siahan Islam, 15, from Mile End, is matched with 24-year-old Maria Atanasoaei and said: “Having a volunteer buddy is really important to me.

“Maria is someone that I can talk to outside of my family which is really nice when I am feeling anxious.

“She is always really kind and helpful. Also, I learn a lot with her.

“I still get worried about things from time to time but Maria helps me take my mind off things.”

To volunteer, email Buddying@sense.org.uk.

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