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Age UK West Kent Befriending Service manager reflects on job she loved after being made redundant

A woman who has devoted the past six and a half years to helping older people overcome loneliness has reflected on the job she loved after being made redundant by Age UK in Maidstone.

Wendy Pfeiffer started working for the charity's West Kent Befriending Service when it was set up in January 2014, but was sadly let go last month due to funding issues. However, she has positive plans for the future.

Diane Bromley and Wendy Pfeiffer on their last day
Diane Bromley and Wendy Pfeiffer on their last day

The service's other paid staff member, Diane Bromley, also left at the same time, when her two-year contract came to an end.

One other employee was made redundant from the branch, based in Mill Street.

Mrs Pfeiffer remembers how excited she was to start at Age UK after leaving her previous job at Guide Dogs.

The 60-year-old said: "It was a totally new service and it was an exciting opportunity to be part of something that really made a difference.

"I have always had an affinity with older people so it ticked all the boxes."

Ms Bromley, Mrs Pfeiffer and some of the volunteers outside the Mill Street office bidding the pair farewell on their final day
Ms Bromley, Mrs Pfeiffer and some of the volunteers outside the Mill Street office bidding the pair farewell on their final day

The West Kent Befriending Service supports over 55s who have little or no social contact. It matches them with volunteer for regular companionship.

As time went on, the programme just kept on growing and by May 2018, there were more than 80 members matched with volunteers.

But with this came a need for more staff to manage the service. So Mrs Pfeiffer set up a fundraising page for another staff member and worked with the Kent Messenger to spread the word.

This was a huge success and enough money was generated to employ Ms Bromley part-time.

With more hands on deck, the service also began offering group events alongside face-to-face befriending, including regular coffee mornings, bus trips, and a pen pal service.

Mrs Pfeiffer says she has always had an affinity with older people
Mrs Pfeiffer says she has always had an affinity with older people

Mrs Pfeiffer said: "Both Diane and I were in a very enviable position that we loved our jobs - in fact we looked at it as a way of life.

"We always said befriending is not rocket science, it is just having the ability to empathise with people who are experiencing loneliness and isolation."

She added: "We were both so sad to be leaving but were given the opportunity to say our goodbyes and most importantly, give our thanks to all of our wonderful volunteers and supporters because without them we could not have achieved all that we did.

"Funding has always been an issue as we were a totally free service which is how it should be. There should never be a charge for friendship. I am certain many other charities have found funding difficult especially in the current climate.

"Diane and I have managed to stay in touch with all of our community befriending members who have really become just like family to us now."

Diane Bromley and Wendy Pfeiffer
Diane Bromley and Wendy Pfeiffer

The pair will be celebrating World Friendship Day with members and volunteers in Brenchley Gardens tomorrow between 11am and 1pm, and plan a river boat trip for next month.

"Although Diane and I are now doing all this voluntarily, we are more than happy to do so. We absolutely loved being part of the befriending service and to be able to see our lovely oldies again makes us just as happy as they have been," said Mrs Pfeiffer.

The two friends are also working on a new community friendship project, details of which are to be revealed in the coming weeks.

Age UK stressed the befriending service would continue following a re-organisation.

A spokesman said: “We would like to thank both Wendy and Diane for their support and time and wish them well for the future.”

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