Six years ago, Kate Webb met five-year-old Regan through Aberdeen Befriend a Child at a difficult time in both their lives.
The friendship that followed has brought more fun and healing than either of them could ever have expected.
Now, Kate is urging more people to support Befriend a Child, as the waiting list of vulnerable children hits record levels.
Kate first heard of Befriend a Child when her running club organised a 10k fun run in aid of the Aberdeen charity. Unable to take part in the run, Kate reached out to ask how else she could help. The idea of befriending appealed to her straight away.
“I remember thinking ‘Wow, this is an amazing charity,'” she says. “I already had experience of volunteering with children at schools and Girl Guides groups, but I liked the fact that this was one-to-one. I knew I wanted to do it.”
Light in dark times
Befriend a Child matched Kate with Regan (whose name has been changed to protect her identity). Tragically, Regan had suffered several bereavements of close family members and had complex additional needs. Their meeting was made all the more poignant by Kate’s own personal struggles at the time.
“I had been trying for many years to have children and was going through IVF, unsuccessfully,” she says. “We were considering adoption and thought that befriending would also be a useful experience. Sadly, I miscarried shortly after matching with Regan.”
Many people would perhaps have turned away from working with young children after such a loss, but Kate found the process a healing one.
“I wasn’t in a good place, but the experience was so good for me,” she says. “Suddenly you have this little person and your task is to make sure they enjoy themselves. When you’re entrusted with a child you can’t be distracted, and that was very welcome.”
Initially Regan was painfully shy, and their first outing felt to Kate like a “total failure” because it lasted only half an hour before Regan wanted to go home. Years later though, Regan can still remember playing football and buying a magazine on that first day out.
Slowly, in the six years that followed, Kate and Regan built up a trusted relationship – with a sound foundation of fun. They share a love of the outdoors, and spent many days swimming, walking on the beach and playing in the park. Kate took photos on every adventure and plans to give Regan a photo book for her 11th birthday.
When lockdown hit, the pair kept in touch on Zoom. “It was hard, because Regan is autistic and much of our communication is non-verbal,” says Kate. “She found Zoom calls frustrating to begin with.”
However, the pair soon found creative ways to stay connected. “We went ‘swimming’ – we donned goggles and dunked our heads in the sink,” laughs Kate. “We baked together, we made slow cooker fudge, I baked a cake and she made rice crispy cakes. Those went down a treat.”
Today, as Regan approaches her teens, their friendship has matured but remains a rewarding part of both their lives. “She can sometimes be moody and hormonal now – on our last outing she told me I’m so embarrassing! She likes to make fun of how old I am. She used to be so shy and it’s a privilege to see the changes in her.”
On reflection, Kate believes their experience of loss helped to bring them together. “It allowed me to have more empathy for her. We both know about the difficult experiences we’ve each had, but it’s something that’s just there and unspoken between us. She’s just so fun most of the time. For any joy I have brought into her life, she has given me that much joy back, and more.”
Can you help?
Sadly, the pandemic has seen a sharp increase in the number of children in need of help. “We have supported children since 1975 and never before have we seen such a surge in referrals,” says head of operations Jean Gordon.
“Social isolation, child’s mental health and parental mental health are just some of the reasons a child will be referred. Currently we have 45 children in need of a befriender or mentor, and we’d love to get them matched.”
Aberdeen Befriend a Child is seeking befrienders and mentors who can bring enthusiasm, fun and stability to the life of a local child or young person through regular outings and activities.
Kate tells all her friends about Befriend a Child. “The charity is so helpful and supportive,” she says. “They do joint outings at special times like Christmas and to see all the children together, chatting and laughing – it’s amazing to see the difference it makes to have this in their lives. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
If you would like to volunteer with Befriend a Child, visit their website or email email@example.com