How Ami could work with voluntary organisations to benefit befriending services

The Ami project has been running for just over 2 months now and we have come a long way in a short time. We’ve interviewed people who have older parents living far away, met lots of amazing people who run befriending networks and made contact with national organisations who offer befriending services. We’ve learnt a lot about how befriending works, the benefits it brings and the importance of making a good match.

Our focus has changed, away from the original driver which came from OCC’s experience in social care and towards the issue of loneliness. We’ve quickly realised that the best way forward is to work closely with the voluntary organisations who have a wealth of experience in running befriending services.

We think that Ami could add huge benefits to befriending services by using IT to do the sorts of things it does so well, whilst working with trained volunteers and professionals to do the parts that humans do so well. The benefits we believe Ami could bring include:

  • Enabling voluntary organisations to make quicker matches between clients and volunteer befrienders
  • Enabling all existing befriending services and charities to work together to map services across the UK and ensure more efficient use of resources.
  • Creating easier processes for relatives, GPs and other agencies to refer lonely people to befriending services
  • Providing easier secure record keeping for voluntary organisations and real time information about visits.
  • Creating secure lists of isolated people within neighbourhoods, useful for Local Authorities, Emergency Services and many other agencies.
  • Motivating more people (especially younger people) to volunteer as befrienders, by making the signing up process more immediate and highlighting the level of need in their local community.

So we’ve invited some of the people we’ve made contact with so far to come and meet Oxford Computer Consultants towards the end of February and find out more about Ami and how we might be able to work together. We’re really looking forward to it.

How Social Impact Bonds can be used to reduce Loneliness

At the inspirational Learning Network Conference run by the Campaign to End Loneliness last week, Lisi Bouchard of Social Finance told us that each lonely person leads to an increased service usage of £12,000 pa.  So it’s clear why we need more ideas to reduce loneliness, like Ami.  Social Impact Bonds are a way of funding projects which would save money for the public purse by preventing conditions, such as loneliness.

What’s a Social Impact Bond

In 2010, Social Finance pioneered a model that separates the payment for the delivery of an intervention from the payment for the success of that intervention. This is the Social Impact Bond (SIB). Working with a number of partners, we realised that we needed to understand not only the financial costs of a social issue but the value to interested parties, primarily government, of preventing an escalation of the same social issue. Once we had agreed the financial value of preventing or improving a social issue, we assessed the level of investment needed that would cover the costs of the delivery of the interventions and the risks to the investors if the interventions were not successful. The first SIB was launched in September 2010 at Peterborough Prison. It funds rehabilitation services for short-sentence prisoners released from the prison, with the aim of reducing reoffending post-release. To date, a total of 14 SIBs have been launched in the UK, ranging from supporting young people to find work to helping rough sleepers off the streets.  Introduction to Social Impact Bonds

Has anyone tried using Social Impact Bonds to reduce loneliness?

NESTA has funded a programme called Rebuilding Connections that reduces loneliness and improves well-being in older age.  The programme, run by Age UK Herefordshire & Worcestershire and a range of public and community care and support services will identify lonely individuals, then match them with trained volunteers to help reconnect people with their communities, as well as facilitating a range of other peer support and social activities. The service is funded using a social impact bond, where payments from commissioners are only made when actual reductions in loneliness are achieved (measured through an accredited loneliness scale).   The pilot programme currently has 75 volunteers supporting 150 older people but aims to support 3,000 older people over the next three years, as well as developing open-source tools to help replicate this innovative approach in new areas.

We’d love to learn more about this project and find out if our IT expertise could help in any way.

Ending Loneliness

It’s becoming increasingly clear that we are addressing loneliness rather than issues around social care.  Our original idea came out of the work Oxford Computer Consultants has done with Social Care teams for Local Authorities.   We had envisaged a system to help people access additional support for their elderly relatives with help from volunteers.  The Local Authority might fund help for an older person getting up in the morning but not provide someone to chat with, or help with the shopping.

As we do more research, speaking to voluntary organisations about befriending networks and Good Neighbour Schemes, we realise that our narrative is wrong.  We are not trying to design something to help in the field of social care.  We are designing something to help reduce loneliness.

Loneliness is becoming increasingly common and it’s affecting our health.  It’s an issue for people of all ages, not just the elderly.  There has been a great deal of interest in the subject recently and many of you will already be aware of the John Lewis Christmas advert or the excellent BBC documentary The Age of Loneliness

So to continue our research, we’re off to Cardiff tomorrow to attend a conference run by the  Campaign to End Loneliness.  We’re looking forward to attending the workshops on Using Technology to Reduce Loneliness, Social Finance and Identifying Older People Experiencing, or at Risk of, Loneliness, finding out what’s out there already and meeting people working in the same field.



Asking the Experts

We have more assumptions to test.  We need to know what volunteer organisations think of our idea and if they will work with us.  Ami will be a web based tool for connecting volunteers with elderly people who need help.  Volunteer organisations have been doing this for a very long time and are the experts in this area.  Would Ami be a useful tool for their work?  Would they put their volunteers onto our website?  Will they work in partnership with us to manage on-going volunteers?

Key Assumptions

The Volunteer Organisations

Many different volunteer organisations operate befriending schemes or Good Neighbour Schemes.  The national charities working in this field include the Age UK,  Royal Voluntary Service, and Independent Age.  They offer befriending in person as well as telephone based befriending services such as Call in Time

There are also lots of smaller local voluntary groups offering a befriending service in their communities.  In Oxfordshire, Volunteer Link Up offer befriending and practical help to older people.   We went to meet with them to find out more about what they do.

VLU website

What we learnt about Volunteer Link Up (VLU)

The Numbers

VLU currently supports 113 people being befriended in West Oxfordshire and they have 160 volunteers on their books.  In Oxfordshire as a whole, there are over 3,000 volunteers supporting over 4,500 older people, as part of 61 Good Neighbour Schemes.  The recent John Lewis Christmas advert prompted 30 more people to enquire about being a volunteer.

How does the Matching Process work?

A potential volunteer approaches VLU.  They complete a simple application form, giving name, address, phone, special skills or interests, availability and the names of 2 referees.  VLU checks the references and invites them in for a chat, (during which VLU also sees some ID documents such as passport, drivers licence in order to complete the DBS check)  Potential volunteers are told  that befriending is quite a big commitment, and can mean an hour long visit, once or twice  a week.

If the volunteer is happy to continue, VLU will then match them to a client and set up an initial meeting.  VLU accompanies the volunteer to meet the client.  At this first meeting they will agree all the ground rules.  Afterwards, VLU calls both parties to see if they are happy with the arrangement and will follow up with more phone calls after a month, 3 months and 6 months.  Some matches they have made have continued for 20 years, becoming very strong friendships.


How could Ami add value?

VLU currently stores all their data in a card index system, so making a match can take quite a long time.  Ami could make this much easier.  Having an anonymous pen portrait of the volunteers and the clients on-line would be useful.  Ami has the potential to attract more volunteers.  Most of VLU current volunteers are retired.  Ami could help to attract younger volunteers who haven’t got spare time in the working week to set this up, but who could volunteer at weekends.   Ami could also help with record keeping and making notes on ongoing visits.

Thank you VLU

Thank you to the staff at VLU for spending some time with us.  It was really useful and we hope to come back and talk to you again soon.


Ami – What’s in a name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

When the idea for this project was first conceived, the original name was Check My Mum’s OK (CMMOK).  This name worked well in explaining the basic idea but had the obvious problem of seeming to exclude all Dads.   Early in December 2015 the name was changed to Check My Loved One’s OK (CMLOOK).  This was an improvement and the project team liked the potential for using LOOK in any future marketing.  LOOK after, LOOK in on, and LOOK out for could all be used to help describe some of the things that the volunteer might do.

However we all felt it was very clunky and no-one uses the term “Loved One” in a natural conversation.  We knew we needed to come up with something better.  In the quiet time between Christmas and New Year we met for a brainstorming session.

The process was led by the design team in a very structured way.   The words Who, What, When, Where, Why and How were written up on a white board and we all threw out words that we associated with each of these prompts.  The whiteboard quickly began to fill up with all our ideas.

New name clouds

Once the ideas started to slow, we moved on to the next part of the process which was to select the words we liked best in each section.  These were underlined in red.  We then tried linking words in one section with words in another.  This led to a short list of new words which we listed on the right hand side of the board.  Of these we selected our favourites.

New Name shortlist

These are the four we liked best and the reasons why we liked them

  • Ami – Liked it being French for friendship.  The english word “Amity” links friend with tea and is derived from the Old French word amité.
  • Gift of Time – Liked gifts, giving, time.
  • Present – Liked the double meaning. Being present and giving a gift.
  • Village – Liked community association and  ‘age’ in title

The one that everyone liked, without reservation, was Ami.  It’s short and simple, sounds warm and of course means friend in French.    It’s not an acronym, so we will write it as Ami, rather than AMI.

We slept on it over the New Year just to be sure, but found we all still liked it just as much.   So now you know, what’s in our new name.

Welcome to Ami.