“YOU’VE saved my sanity, Diane” — that was what an elderly woman told one of the many Befrienders who visit lonely and disabled people across Bracknell Forest.

The Befriending Scheme — which pairs volunteers with isolated, vulnerable adults — is run by Involve Community Services.

But after March, this could all be changing as Bracknell Forest Council and Silva Homes have stopped funding the initiative.

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Age UK Berkshire is set to take up a version of the scheme to replace Involve’s programme, but several Befrienders who look after isolated residents are worried about the switch.

Birch Hill resident Yvonne Buckley, who looks after two women aged 92 and 95 years old, said: “We don’t know what Age UK is going to do.

"This is a vital thing for our old people."

“They [Befriendees] are used to us and they want to see us still.

“We are very upset about it all, but we are more upset for the people we see.”

Befrienders typically meet their Befriendees a few times a week for a couple of hours a day, doing activities with them including taking them shopping, going out for lunch or to the cinema.

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Joyce, who is also from Birch Hill and who suffered a stroke, was matched up with Sandra Paveystock through the Befriending Scheme.

They meet every Tuesday and every other Monday and Joyce describes Sandra as “wonderful” and as someone she “trusts”.

Local Berkshire:

(Sandra, left, and Joyce, right).

She added: “If it wasn’t for Sandra, I wouldn’t be going outdoors.”

Trust is a key part of the relationship between Befrienders and Befriendees.

One Befriender, Bill, said the elderly man he visits sees him “like a son.”

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Potentially losing this bond is what is worrying many Befrienders, who go through checks, interviews and a matching process with Involve before being paired up with their Befriendee.

Bill added: “If you get someone else to go in who’s new, it is going to take years to get to know them.

“The people who are saying there is no money are going to be old one day and will want someone to talk to.”

Other Befrienders told the News they were “shocked” and “so upset” with a letter they received from Involve telling them the scheme would stop because of the funding cut.

Yvonne said: “I think it’s important that the community, the whole of Bracknell should know what is going on and how the council is treating our old people.

“Let’s be honest, the council doesn’t care at all about them.”

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Bracknell Forest Council says the Scheme has helped hundreds of older people “combat loneliness” over the past ten years.

Responding to the changes, Nikki Edwards, a director at BFC, said: “We’re pleased to say that another local agency, Age UK Berkshire, is looking to establish a similar programme in Bracknell Forest, meaning beneficiaries will be able to move to the new scheme should they wish.

“We’re delighted that older people within the Bracknell Forest area will be able to continue to benefit through Age UK Berkshire.”

Local Berkshire:

While worries about Age UK’s scheme remain, the Befrienders who spoke to the News were full of praise for how Involve bosses ran the initiative.

The scheme is so popular that up to 100 volunteers are signed up to the initiative.

Diane Smith, from Easthampstead, said giving up her time to support her 87-year-old Befriendee makes her feel good, too.

She added: “I feel that I have given something back as well. I feel like we have given something back to the community.

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“It is just about having the company. The two previous ladies I had were housebound. They didn’t see anyone else. They feel so isolated.

“The lady I’m seeing now — her words to me after seeing nobody for weeks were: ‘You’ve saved my sanity, Diane’”.

Involve’s boss Philip Cook said he was “extremely grateful” to all the volunteers who had contributed to the scheme.

He added: “Recognising the difference the service makes, a more suitable provider is being supported by Involve to establish a new befriending scheme in the borough.

“We are delighted to be working with Age UK Berkshire and will be supporting all clients and volunteers through this difficult time and enabling them to stay within a Befriending Scheme, if they choose.”

Age UK is set to meet with dozens of the Befrienders next week to discuss the charity’s plans for the future of the scheme.