Loneliness and isolation can be a major cause of unhappiness and can contribute towards depression and mental illness in older age. These associations are recognised by academics, policy makers and older people's representative organisations alike in several countries, and many corrective
ad hocand country-specific initiatives have been supported. This study examines the opinions of the users of a local home-visiting befriending service in the United Kingdom. The befrienders are volunteers, and most users were introduced to the service by female relatives or health service professionals. Positive opinions of the service predominated, and users placed a high value on the reliability of their befrienders. The service provided the users with an opportunity to develop a new bond, and many reported friendly reciprocity, which they recognised as an ingredient of ‘real’ friendship. These friendships sometimes developed beyond the agreed rules and remits of the ‘formal’ service, and incorporated various forms of supplementary assistance and social activities. The paper demonstrates the value of befriending services and examines carefully the aspects of their implementation that required exceptional sensitivity.