RISING demand at a charity which helps vulnerable and disadvantaged children in Rugby has led to a rallying cry for volunteers to help them take a break and have fun.
County charity The Friendship Project works with schools and children’s services to help kids aged six to 16 have time out from troubles such as bereavement, caring for a parent or disabled sibling, or a lack of self-esteem.
But the charity is struggling to find suitable volunteers after a 25-fold increase in the number of children from Rugby being referred over the last two years.
Deborah Roberts, the charity’s Area Coordinator for Rugby and North Warwickshire, said there were currently 20 children on the waiting list.
She said: “There are more children in need of our services than there is help available.
“Social workers are stretched beyond capacity, many children’s centres are being closed down and budget cuts are harming social services. So any support children can get from charities like ours helps a bit more.”
She said The Friendship Project existed to pick up the slack for children who could otherwise get left behind, and give them a couple of hours a week that is just for them.
“It can be something really basic,” she said. “We had one little boy who had never ridden a bike, and one of our volunteers had a spare one in the garage. So the little boy learned how to ride a bike and rode round and round the volunteer’s garden.
“One of the problems we see is with children who lack self confidence and self-esteem, and that’s what we try to bring out in them.
“We had a little girl who was terribly shy and hardly spoke to the volunteer at all, but eventually the barriers broke down. Now she orders her own food in cafes – something she would never have done previously.”
Volunteers often end up making strong connections with the children – one child even ended up being a bridesmaid for her volunteer.
Deborah added: “The reactions we get from the children are outstanding.
“We hear their schoolwork improves, their parents tell us their behaviour has improved, they seem much more confident, they make more friends at school.
“Just having someone to talk to and go out and do things with – things which other children take for granted – gives them something to look forward to and talk about.”
Friendship Project volunteers – referred to as ‘older friends’ – come from all walks of life, from graduates to retirees, and no qualifications are needed.
Applicants must be over 18, prepared to undergo an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check (paid for by the charity), can commit to the project for at least six months, and have access to a car.