“A friendship like no other” Buddies Project for people detained in hospital

An innovative West Midlands befriending project has matched 24 autistic people and people with learning disabilities detained within mental health hospitals, with individuals who have lived experience of being a hospital inpatient, creating ‘friendships like no other’.

The Buddies Project was first commissioned as a pilot by NHS England in January 2022, and is run by Bild, the Restraint Reduction Network (RRN) and Reach Out.

This pioneering approach to peer support has provided people who are subject to high levels of restricted practice, such as long-term segregation, with someone who understands the hospital environment and who has no prejudice about their circumstances or control over them.

The 50-minute weekly online sessions give Buddees – those supported through the project who can often feel isolated and lonely – time with their Buddy to talk confidentially and meaningfully. This can cover anything from life plans, gaming, favourite sports, issues with other patients or life on the ward.

We are pleased to be able to share the experiences of people who havce benefitted from the Buddies Project through this video:

One Buddee said: “I find it difficult to talk to some staff about my feelings, about stuff. And there’s only certain people I’ll go to with, like personal information.”

A Buddy added: “[My Buddee knows] every Monday at four o’clock that they’ve got me. It’s that consistency and they know they can talk and they know I’m not a professional or hospital staff.”

Ben Higgins, CEO of Bild, said: “We are delighted with the impact the Buddies Project has had in the West Midlands. Bild and the RRN believe people should live in ‘homes not hospitals’ and this project has provided a unique and personal link back to the community for those patients subject to long-term segregation and restrictions.

“The funding for this project ends in March 2024. As more hospitals realise the benefits of this project, we hope to be able to continue the Buddies Project beyond this point, helping to support even more autistic people and people with learning disabilities on their journey back into their communities.”

The project has also had the unintended benefit of enhancing Buddies’ own lives, supporting them to grow in confidence. One Buddy said: “I can do something that makes a difference and I’m able to support myself. I feel like it’s not easy but I can do it.”

Clinical Psychologist, Cathy, has seen the positive impact the project has had on her patients: “We have individuals who have gone from not really socialising with anyone on the ward to being really sociable and really interested in other people.”

Ward Manager, Maggie, added: “It’s like there is a light at the end of the tunnel when they [Buddees] know that people have been where they are and have come out the other side. That’s so empowering. It’s a pleasure to be part of this project.”

If you work for a Local Integrated Care Board (ICB) or a provider collaborative and would like to hear more contact Marie Willan at [email protected]

You can also find out more about the Buddy role on this page.

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