THE COMMUNITY will benefit from almost £130,000 worth of grants being announced by Stratford Town Trust in its final round of 2018.

Funding totalling £129,173 is being awarded to support 16 different causes.

One of those organisations hoping it will make a big difference is The Friendship Project for Children, a Warwickshire charity which matches children in need with adult volunteers – called ‘Older Friends’ – for friendship and fun, whilst helping to build a child’s self-esteem and confidence. They spend 2 or 3 hours a week together enjoying activities and outings – from footy in the park to catching a movie.

The Friendship Project has been awarded a grant of £7,070 to support its work and its friendships in Stratford – and crucially to raise its profile in a bid to recruit more volunteers who are desperately needed to help disadvantaged children in the town.

The charity currently supports 65 friendships across Warwickshire – but there are a similar number on the waiting list, unable to be paired with a friend because there aren’t enough volunteers.

In Stratford, there are 6 friendships currently supported, but so many more children waiting to benefit. The Friendship Project has asked local schools to pause sending referrals until there are more volunteers recruited.

“If we could just double the number of older friends in Stratford it would be amazing – because there is no shortage of children in need,” Richard Barrett, Friendship Project Trustee and Fundraiser, said.

“Our volunteers come from all sorts of backgrounds, some are parents whose children have grown up and moved away, others don’t have any children. But of course, ‘older friend’ is just the term we use – it could be someone in their 20s, who has moved away from home themselves, from nieces and nephews perhaps.

“You have to have an interest in developing a one-to-one friendship with a young person, in taking the time to talk to them, gradually building their trust, enabling them to experience things in a safe environment that they would not usually have the opportunity to do. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive – it could be playing football in the park, but to a child who doesn’t get to do that – maybe because their parent is caring for a disabled sibling at home, it means a huge amount.”

“It’s so rewarding for our older friends too – many say it’s the best thing they have ever done.”