A CHARITY that finds a friend to offer the support and company some people need to live full and independent lives is a decade old and looking to expand.

The Befriender Scheme, based in Spennymoor, became a charity in 2002 to help adults with learning disabilities broaden their horizons.

It originally worked in the former Sedgefield Borough but following a shake-up of local councils it has been able to work across County Durham and is starting to venture out of its core area in the south of the county.

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And as adults with learning disabilities get a greater say about how money is spent on their welfare and as interest in the role of befriender grows the charity is looking to expand.

Manager Maggie Hughes said: “There are potentially a lot of people who could benefit, we hope to help more people do the things they want.

“Though the charity has to charge to cover costs such as CRB checks and health and safety training we try to keep costs affordable, we raise funds and apply to foundations and trusts to help.”

Clients range from school leavers to pensioners and can have mild learning difficulties to complex and profound physical disabilities and health problems.

Mrs Hughes said: “When someone comes forward we try to match them with a suitable befriender, someone with similar interests so they can enjoy whatever activity they want but probably couldn’t do independently.

“It could be shopping, crafts, bingo, walking, days out, all sorts.

“We offer something different to a family member or carer, it is about giving people independence and maximising their potential.

“Often our clients have ageing parents no longer able to do all the things they want to or live alone, sometimes it is the only regular one-to-one contact they have.

“It doesn’t seem a lot to ask for someone to be there just for them.”

Mrs Hughes said many genuine friendships have developed between befrienders and clients.

Among them are Suzanne Dixon, 50, who lives with her parents in Willington, whose befriender Susan Kitching, a retired social worker from Bishop Auckland, takes her for coffee, shares a love of country music and helps her enjoy crafts.

Miss Dixon said: “I can talk to her, she helps me and when I’m with her I have a happy face.”

Mrs Kitching added: “It is hugely satisfying, offering a trusting ear to listen, help her sort some problems out, seeing her try new things and showing her what she can achieve.

“She and I both get a lot out of it.”

For details of the scheme call 01388-816784.