A selection of pictures showing different mentoring and befriending relationships

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What is mentoring and befriending?


A voluntary, mutually beneficial and purposeful relationship in which an individual gives time to support another to enable them to make changes in their life

Mentoring and befriending makes a real difference to people who find themselves struggling, often at a time of change, and find that they need the dedicated support of another person to help them navigate their way through. It covers a range of supportive and purposeful activity involving the development of a relationship in which one person, who is not family or a close friend, gives time to support and encourage another.

Mentoring and befriending is found in a range of settings – within community, statutory and business – and can take place on a one-to-one basis or within groups. Whatever the setting, mentoring and befriending shares the following key elements:

  • Building relationship and trust
  • Clarifying purpose and intended outcomes
  • Communicating and reviewing progress with individuals
  • Ending the relationship 

Find more on the range of delivery models and methods used.

Many people who have experienced the support of a mentor and befriender tell us that it marked a turning point in their life, helping them to build new networks of support, increase their self-confidence, develop new skills and change their life for the better. Read some life-changing stories in our case study bank

What is its purpose?

There are four main purposes for mentoring and befriending activity:

  • Specific/targeted:  to find education, employment, stop re-offending, help integrate into the community, develop a career
  • Change behaviour: to improve relationships, reduce unwanted behaviours etc
  • Expand opportunities: to develop personal skills, build confidence, improve attainment etc
  • Supportive: to build trust and resilience, reduce isolation etc

Mentoring and befriending happens both formally and informally, but often, to make a real difference, it needs to be supported by good training, supervision and management. Volunteers often come from the project’s local community to support a particular group of people or age group.

This could be:

  • Socially isolated people and those with mental health problems needing support to re-engage with others and their communities
  • Unemployed people wanting to build up their self-confidence and develop new skills to enable them to re-enter work
  • Disadvantaged young people lacking a positive role model
  • Young people in care looking for support as they move to independent living
  • Offenders and those at risk of re-offending wanting guidance often from those have been through similar experiences
  • Refugees negotiating their way into an unfamiliar life
  • Students who are being bullied striving to improve their attendance or results

Mentoring and befriending relationships are mutually beneficial with both the service users and volunteers finding their involvement rewarding as it offers an excellent opportunity for personal development and obtaining new skills and experiences as well as a chance to put something back into the community.

What is the difference?

Both forms of support aim to build supportive, trusting relationships over time and both include social elements within them. The main difference between the two is the emphasis placed on goals. Mentoring focuses more on goal setting within a time-limited process whereas befriending tends to develop more informal, supportive relationships, often over a longer period of time.

Want to be a mentor or befriender?

  • Check out the mentoring and befriending volunteering opportunities listed here on the Do-It website and apply direct to the relevant organisation
  • Find a project by searching out network member project directory

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Contact us

M&B APS Standard
Tel: 020 7520 2443 
Email: infomandb@ncvo.org.uk

M&B Training
Tel: 020 7520 2587
Email: training@ncvo.org.uk

Mentoring and Befriending at NCVO
National Council for Voluntary Organisations
Society Building
8 All Saints Street
N1 9RL

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