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September 2021

Can you help me move this wardrobe?

I offered to help move my son into his new shared house. He was not moving far, so hiring a van didn’t seem sensible. We got most things into the car, a couple / three trips got it sorted. It was the large furniture which was left. Hiring a van for half a day was too much, we just needed help for an hour. I called a friend who belongs to the car club, could he help? 

‘Happy to - consider it sorted' he said.

And it was, a quick booking and arrangements made and we moved my son, no problem. Reflecting on this over the next few days gave me an opportunity to think about my friend's generosity of time and willingness to help. And how we need friends in our lives, people with whom we share common beliefs, values, people who we care about and care about us. This led me to think about how friends are also an important protective factor against being a victim of abuse and harm. Perhaps someone to speak up for you, when you can't. Friends can be in person or online, your next door neighbour or a friend 1,000 miles away, it still works in the same way.

Lots has been written about the importance of friendships in our lives. All of our relationships, the ones that go well, and the ones that are tricky, help us learn about ourselves and others. Friendships teach us how to get along with different people, and how to deal with disagreements, and different opinions. Friendships teach us kindness and to care for others.

We pay attention to a recommendation from a friend. We ask their advice on all sorts of things - from choosing a new place to eat out or which movie to see to purchasing goods and services, choosing a career, a relationship or voting. The list goes on. This is one of the key drivers behind why our NHS uses a Friends and Family Test (FFT) to help service providers and commissioners understand whether patients are happy with the service provided, or where improvements are needed. Would I recommend this service or hospital to my friends and family? (Because what happens to them matters to me.)

Science writer Lydia Denworth discusses the biology and evolution of this connection between individuals in her very interesting TED talk on the science of friendship. Friendship is as important as diet and exercise! And research suggests we should invest in bonds (friendships) which are stable, positive and cooperative. This matters more than bonds based on their origin.

Good relationships are important for your mental wellbeing. They can:

  • help you to build a sense of belonging and self-worth
  • give you an opportunity to share positive experiences
  • provide emotional support and allow you to support others

And friends can help protect us.

In mid-August NSAB launched a 3 minute animated video called Tricky Friends. The aim was to provide a conversation starter for people with learning disabilities and autism and those who support them. To talk about good positive friendships but also ones which did not make the person happy. Everyone should have positive opportunities to make and maintain friendships. We want to help people to do this, to reduce the risk of harm and exploitation in groups who may be less able to recognise the intentions of others. 

This video can be watched from start to finish or one section at a time, talking through as you go. Whatever works. This project has come out of discussions I have had for a year plus now, with groups and organisations in Norfolk who support people with learning disabilities and autism, about how to raise awareness of issues like exploitation, county lines, cuckooing / home invasion. These are important and live issues for Norfolk and across the county.

It can also be used to support a wider group of people, such as those who have cognitive difficulties, and also children and young adults. I am currently talking with safeguarding children colleagues to see if we can make a few adjustments for a younger audience, 12 to 14 years. We hope to share it out to the schools.

Tricky Friends has been received very well and to my surprise a growing number of safeguarding boards and services around the country are coming back to me to ask if they can have their own bespoke copy, to use in their areas (I have been able to arrange this with the help of the animation company, which is great).

So, knowing that good stable, positive and cooperative friendship are a protective factor in the lives of adults at risk of abuse and harm, here is something we all can do. You may know someone who you could show the video to and then have a chat about it. A simple action which could enable someone who is experiencing abuse and harm to start to talk about. We can then do something to help protect them.

Tricky Friends is FREE to access on the board website.

Thank you. 

Walter Lloyd-Smith

NSAB Board Manager


Email: [email protected]


Friday 10 September 2021