Our b.friend programme is one of the things we're most proud of here at Bridges. B.friend provides refugees and asylum seekers in Bristol with one-to-one support, creating a vital connection between often incredibly isolated individuals and the wider local community. We train our volunteers, who then meet regularly with their b.friend partner, providing friendship, support, informal advice and English conversation practice.
Since 2015 we have also been running our Syrian b.friend programme, working in partnership with Bristol City Council to support families who have arrived in Bristol under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. Originally only open to Syrians, the project now also supports families from Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Iran.
2018 was a great year for b.friend. Our programmes supported 98 individual refugees and asylum seekers, we trained 90 new volunteers as befrienders, and our volunteers together clocked up an incredible 4,890 volunteer hours (at least!). A huge thank you to every one of our incredible volunteers, without whom b.friend simply could not exist!
B.friend is a lifeline for refugees and asylum seekers, yet one of the pieces of feedback we always receive is how much the volunteers themselves also gain from participating in the programmes. Holly, who has been volunteering with Syrian b.friend since August, said that:
"Seeing Reham, Abdulhakim and their three children is always a highlight of my week. Whatever time or day I visit, they'll always make me feel incredibly welcome, and the table is consistently full of delicious food. Getting to know the family has felt like a real honour, and the way they have welcomed me into their home is something really special. A particular highlight was bringing my 91 year old grandma to meet the family on Christmas eve: within about 5 minutes of arriving she was dancing to Syrian music and eating tabouleh like she'd been doing it her entire life. Though there are difficulties, I've been in awe of the families perseverance and versatility, and their commitment to just simply making it work. I know my friendship with Reham will last for years to come, and I can't wait to see how the children grow and progress in their new lives here in Bristol."