On Saturday, Rovers will welcome a group of volunteers and service users from Doncaster-based charity b:friend to the Keepmoat Stadium.
B:friend offer one-to-one support and friendship for more than 200 older people across Doncaster. Of those 200 people, there are 100 “befriending pairings” which means a dedicated volunteer visits an isolated older neighbour in their community once a week for a chat and a cup of tea.
The charity was set-up by Mike Niles who is “on a mission to end loneliness”. Mike was inspired to begin the project after he took part in something similar in London which he says helped him as much as it helped the older people he worked with.
As well as providing one-to-one meet-ups, Mike and b:friend also provide days out which break stereotypes – there’s no bingo or bunting where b:friend’s concerned. Instead the group attend events such as Bollywood-themed parties, street parties, and wine tasting. Now, the group can add an afternoon at the Keepmoat Stadium to their list.
There are almost 20,000 people in Doncaster who are at risk of loneliness but despite this, the charity didn’t have the easiest of starts. Mike faced a lack of interest and was working from his parents' garage in order to turn his dream into a reality. After three months, he had ten people signed up and in November 2017, Mike believed that the charity didn’t have the finances to last beyond the new year.
Described as “the best Christmas present ever”, b:friend was granted three years of National Lottery funding at the end of 2017 and just a year later the charity has 150 older people and 50 volunteers signed up.
The club reached out to Mike earlier this year to offer a Christmas present of their own, an invite for everyone involved with b:friend to attend Doncaster Rovers’ match against Oxford United.
“It's a great opportunity for us to reach a new audience, both volunteers and older people that may wish to be more connected,” Mike said.
“We particularly struggle to reach older men in the community, and have less male volunteers, so it would be great to speak to this audience on the day.”
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