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Summer / Autumn 2019 Opportunity Articles

Our Special Friends

Helping people and pets through difficult times

Our Special Friends is a West Suffolk-based human-animal bond charity which recognises the importance of companion animals for our health and wellbeing. Set up by Veterinary Surgeon Belinda Johnston, it provides a range of support services to enable people to continue to enjoy the companionship of animals during illness, bereavement or at other difficult times in their lives.

The charity began its work eight years ago and was awarded charitable status in 2014. Since then more than a thousand people and their pets have been supported by Our Special Friends. Following its fifth birthday celebrations, a few months ago, Belinda recalled achieving charitable status for Our Special Friends.

“It has not always been an easy ride and achieving charitable status in 2014 was a significant milestone for us as an organiSation. Another high was a recent visit from Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, whose quick understanding and advocacy culminated in an incredibly supportive article published in the Bury Free Press, entitled ‘Our Special Friends is the kind of Social Prescribing that can make a real difference to a person’s health’.”

But what does Our Special Friends do?

“The answer is complex. Our Special Friends provides a link in the community, collaborating with human health and social care as well as vets and animal charities, enabling people to continue to enjoy the benefits of animal companionship. It may involve supporting people in caring for their own pets during difficult times or enhancing wellbeing through contact with visiting dogs.

“This is achieved through the genuine kindness of our volunteers and the time that they offer. Helping with dog walking and other pet care or by visiting people with their own dogs can provide the vital link in helping people to overcome loneliness and live independently. It can also offer people peace of mind that their animals are being cared for at those times when they need to be temporarily separated from their pets, due to personal circumstances like a hospital stay.

“Volunteers bring all sorts of other skills to the charity, helping behind the scenes with administration, database entry and fundraising, as well as attending events. The support we receive is amazing and we are constantly humbled by the generosity of people who devote their time to our cause. In fact, we had our first marathon runner this year who managed to raise over £2,500 through his fundraising efforts.

“However, we are rapidly outgrowing the small office from which we operate and are looking to move into larger offices imminently with a long-term ambition to create a community outreach centre.

“So, with the right funding and support, Our Special Friends is now set to embark on an ambitious plan, built on solid practical experience, to bring the power of animal companionship to even more people facing personal difficulties. And, to do this we need help from the business community in pushing our fundraising activity to the next level.”

If you and your business would like to explore ways that you can be involved and help
Our Special Friends, then contact Belinda Johnston MA VetMB MRCVS on
E Belinda.Johnston@ourspecialfriends.org or visit ourspecialfriends.org

Sue Wilcock