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Ava Halvai is a Befriender Volunteer and the Current Holder of the Octavia Foundation Befriender of the Year Award. As part of our ongoing Student Stories Series, Ava spoke to us about her experiences as a befriender.

What volunteering did you do, how long for, and how often did you do it?

I’ve always enjoyed volunteering, and I wanted to try something new. I went to the Big Volunteering Fair last October and I saw the Octavia Foundation. When I first came to university, I noticed that a lot of people around me were quite lonely.  It made me think: if we’re lonely within this big UCL community, how must others in more isolated communities feel? So that’s what made me want to do it. I went along to an interview and was paired up with someone, based on my personality.

Did you find our fairs useful?

I found out about the fairs through the Volunteering Service newsletter and didn’t have any expectations really.  It was really good - there were lots of organisations!  There was so much to choose from!

What did you get up to with your befriendee?

Once a week I take her out for a coffee – I love it!  I tell everyone that she’s like a clone of my grandma – it’s so strange personality wise. They had obviously paired us based on our personalities.  After going for coffee once a week with her, we also started going to local coffee mornings to meet other people.  My befriending can’t last forever – so I try and integrate her within her community.

When I first came to university, I noticed that a lot of people around me were quite lonely. It made me think: if we’re lonely within this big UCL community, how must others in more isolated communities feel?

Some students have told us that befriending is like having a best friend – is that something you’d agree with?

It’s exactly like that – she’s the funniest and most charismatic person I’ve ever met. I feel like we always think ‘we’re giving back’ by volunteering but you gain so much from it as well. A lot of my relatives live in America – so it was like having a grandma in London to take you out. That’s what I say to my friends when I’m trying to get them to do it!

Did you need any training?

It really was simple – it was just one day on safeguarding, wellbeing and establishing boundaries. While it’s like having another friend, you have to take it seriously!

A lot of students don’t have that adult presence in this country so it really helps you as a student by doing this.

You won Octavia’s ‘Befriender of the Year’ Award - tell us a little bit about that!

Octavia gave all the befriendees the chance to nominate people, and my befriendee nominated me! I was tearing up at the awards – the things she was saying! She said I’m ‘like family’ and that I’ve changed her life. I think my age was a big factor –  there weren’t many young people befriending!

Why do you think it’s important for young people to befriend their older neighbours?

Sometimes my befriendee says that she feels like a burden and says I shouldn’t visit. That’s why I wanted to come here and talk about it – it benefits them and us.  A lot of students don’t have an adult presence in this country, so it really helps and is fun!  They pair you up with someone near you – I can literally walk to her house. 

What’s so great about this, if people are looking to volunteer, is that the charity really values you!

 I feel like we always think ‘we’re giving back’ by volunteering but you gain so much from it as well.


If Ava’s experience with the Octavia Foundation has inspired you to volunteer, check out their other opportunities here. If something else strikes your fancy, please visit our online directory to view all the current roles we have on offer with our 400+ London-based partners!


Student Stories: Volunteers in the Big City is an ongoing profile series. If you’re a student and would like to feature in it, please click here to register your interest.