A BEFRIENDING group are offering people the chance to experience different cultures this summer - without stepping on a plane.

Supportive Communities Befriending, based in Port Glasgow, is looking for volunteers to meet up with 'New Scot' refugees living in the area.

The group have been working to help refugees, predominately from Syria, settle in Inverclyde - and with lockdown restrictions beginning to ease, they are hoping to get new team members on board.

Volunteer co-ordinator for the group, Paul Haggerty, started as a befriender after finding himself with more time on his hands and he says he hasn't looked back since.

Paul told the Tele: "After I came back from working abroad I was looking to do something meaningful, which is when I came across the project.

"It is amazing being able to meet someone totally new who has experienced such a different life from yourself, but the way we match people is there is usually always a shared interest.

"It makes it easier when both the volunteer and New Scot have something in common, as sometimes they can be limited with their English abilities, so it helps them settle in."

Volunteers and New Scots usually meet face-to-face but they were still able to maintain contact during the coronavirus lockdown with the help of technology.

Paul told the Tele: "Thanks to things like Zoom and Whatsapp, many of the relationships were able to withstand the months were they were unable to meet face to face.

"Volunteers have also started to go see New Scots from a distance and things are slowly getting back to the levels we were at before the lockdown took place.

"We have definitely managed better than I initially expected and it's been great how many of the relationships have been maintained.

"I think it's partly because everyone who has been paired up has a shared interest."

The volunteers and people they help do a variety of activities together, from simply meeting for a coffee each week or going out on bike rides.

There have also been a few instances where partners who volunteer have been matched with a refugee couple and they have hosted dinners together.

Before lockdown there were new volunteers ready to be trained but Paul is hoping more will sign up as there is currently a large list of New Scots waiting to be paired with a friend.

He added: "We don't just match them with the first volunteer who walks through the door.

"We like to make sure they are compatible so the relationship can be maintained, which means we've got quite a big waiting list.

"There are currently more female volunteers than male, so it would be good if more men would be interested in joining.

"It tends to work better it we set up same sex partnerships, as sometimes some of the New Scot women have past trauma so having a female companion helps them feel more at ease.

"But matches aren't limited to ages or gender, if we think a pairing will work well then we'd definitely give it a go."

Most volunteers are 18 and above, however Paul is happy to hear from anyone younger who thinks they would be suited to the role.

Generally, volunteers commit one to two hours per week to meet with their companion and all expenses are able to be refunded through the programme.

*To put yourself forward call 01475 553372 or visit Supportive Communities Befriending on Facebook.