Paul Popham Fund appeals for volunteer befrienders

The Paul Popham Fund, Renal Support Wales, is urging anyone who has been a kidney patient or a carer for a kidney patient to consider joining the charity’s befriender scheme.

The Paul Popham Fund aims to improve the lives of kidney patients in Wales, and a key part of that work is done by volunteer befrienders. The befrienders are people who have some experience of renal issues themselves, either as patients or carers. They provide kidney patients with listening, friendship and advice based on their own experiences – and they can signpost them on to specialist sources of help and support when required.

Joseph Townsend, 39, from Port Talbot, is delighted to have become a befriender for the Paul Popham Fund. He has gone through two kidney transplants – in 2006 and 2015 – and works as an ambulance driver transporting kidney patients to and from hospital, so he’s ideally placed to understand what the patients are going through and to strike up conversations with them.

Joe first heard about befriending in 2015, when his dialysis nurse told him she felt he would be perfect for the role. A couple of years later he met Paul Popham CEO Joanne Popham at a charity event and asked her about how to become a befriender. She got him signed up for training, and he’s been working as a befriender ever since, while also being a dad to two young children and an ambulance driver.

“The training was good,” he says. “A key point is that you learn to listen to patients’ problems and don’t try to make it all about you. They are the focus – you can help just by listening, and you can offer advice. I’ve been able to give useful pointers based on my own experience. I know which people to contact for advice, and I’m able to ask certain questions that help them look at their situation in a different way. It’s great to be steering them towards help.”

He adds that it’s important to have the support of the Paul Popham Fund behind him to help with any special issues.

“If the patients need more expert help you can ring the office and get them referred to someone who can help. They might need counselling, for example, or help with money issues,” he says.

The experience of being a befriender is enjoyable for Joe as well as helpful for the patients.

“If you like a chat and enjoy meeting people, it’s great,” he says. “I get enjoyment out of it because I’ve been in their shoes and know exactly how they feel. I wish the support had been there when I was first going through it. I feel rewarded when I know people are getting helped.”

Another positive element is the time he gets to spend with other befrienders in their regular meetings.

“The group is really nice – everyone is really friendly and supportive.,” he says. “We have little get togethers where we discuss what’s been happening. It’s nice to see everyone, have a laugh and a joke together and get everyone’s input.”

The befriending scheme is so widely appreciated that patients who have benefited from it often go on to become involved with the Paul Popham Fund.

“A lot of them become befrienders themselves, or they do something for the charity, such as helping to raise money themselves,” says Joe, who is always pleased to see new people getting involved.

“You don’t have to be a transplant patient or a person on dialysis; you could be a carer or a patient,” he says. “If you are upbeat about it, it’s easier to be a befriender – and it can help you too, as you’re not concentrating on feeling sorry for yourself: you’re focusing on helping other people.”

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