EXPERIENCING mental ill-health can leave some people lacking confidence and feeling isolated.

As a result, going to work, a simple trip to the shops, the cinema or even just a crowded street, can seem like an ordeal.

But the East Oxford-based charity Tandem helps people to regain their confidence through a system of Befriending.

Managers are hoping the Jubilee Fund for Oxfordshire can help them expand their successful service in Oxford City into Bicester.

Tandem was set up in 1999 following a meeting with mental health professionals and service users.

Co-founder Prue Sykes, 68, said: “We met with 50 or so service users to find out where the gaps were in supporting people with mental health issues in Oxford — and their resounding response was a need for Befriending.”

She added: “People who have experienced mental illness often feel cut off, even from their friends.

“It is true that there is a great deal of stigma attached to mental illness, even though many people have family members who have experienced things like depression and schizophrenia.

“Service users told us while there are a lot of resources available to treat their illnesses, there was nothing to support what was still ‘normal’ about them.”

Befrienders are all ages, come from all walks of life and are carefully matched to Tandem’s clients, ensuring they share similar interests.

Mrs Sykes said: “In the majority of cases it does work and I am always amazed by how successful some friendships are.

“We have a man in his 60s, for example, who was matched with a young woman in her 20s, and because they share similar interests, they work very well together.”

Some pairs choose to meet up for coffee once a week, while others participate in social or leisure activities.

Mrs Sykes added: “Last year, we formed 45 Befriending partnerships and I think around 80 percent of them would say it had supported them through that stage in their life.”

The Jubilee Fund for Oxfordshire was set up in April to commemorate the Queen’s Jubilee and is raising money to support small local groups and projects, many of which, like Tandem, are struggling in the current financial climate.

Money will be allocated through a series of grants in the coming months.

Mrs Sykes said: “We scrape by, thanks to grants from generous sources like the Sobell Foundation, and our own fundraising. But we have plans to expand our service into Bicester and any money, including Jubilee Fund money, would be a huge boost for us.”

  • For information on the Jubilee Fund email jubilee@oxfordshire.org, call 01865 798666, or go to 3 Woodins Way, Oxford. Donate by phone by texting JBLE 12 to 70070 with a donation
  • For information on Tandem visit tandembefriending.org.uk


SUE Brown, 62,  is a retired GP from Oxford who has been a Tandem Befriender for four years.

She said: “Befriending is about finding a rhythm between you and that person, just as you would in any relationship.

“I meet Reah and another woman regularly and they are very different.

“Reah leads a hectic life, with things constantly happening which she has to deal with. She is a very kind woman and I think she appreciates the ‘normal’ time we spend together.”

Reah Debanks, 44, from Wood Farm, Headington, met Ms Brown two years ago and credits her for keeping her alive and out of jail.

She said: “I was referred to Tandem because I tried to take my life several times and was having suicidal thoughts.

“When my father died I went off the rails. My six children were taken into care, I went to jail, was given an ASBO and felt there was no point left in living.

“When I met Sue I found someone I could talk to about my problems. In May my husband died and I had a tough time again, but Sue listens. She’s my rock.”