Sunday marks International Volunteer Day, but one Central Otago group goes above and beyond just volunteering aims to build friendship.

The Covid-19 environment meant people were more aware of how important social interaction was for general health and how isolation negatively affected mental and physical health, Central Otago Friendship Network co-ordinator Laura Herbert said.

The network was established support a wide range of people to develop friendships and connect socially, particularly people who otherwise might be isolated.

Miss Herbert said network staff aimed to build connections between people by running social groups, establishing relationships between individuals and volunteers, and supporting and encouraging friendships.

About 35 volunteers assisted the network in its work, providing transport to and from friendship events and groups for those who needed it.

The network had several individuals who had been matched with a volunteer or staff member, and they met regularly for a walk or another activity for the social interaction it provided, she said.

One of the groups, called Circle of Friends, was for people with disabilities, mostly young to middle-aged adults, and aimed to help each person share their skills, build their confidence and interact.

As well as various events throughout the year, the network was intending to mark International Volunteer Day this week with a barbecue at Lowburn for a group of people with disabilities.

On Mondays, the network ran meetings for a group of older people grappling with loneliness.

Cuppa Club met on Thursdays, when a couple of volunteers drove the conversation.

Some members had extended their social sphere to other community service groups, such as Rotary and Senior Citizens.

Additionally, the network had three groups in which staff met school pupils in their lunch breaks, Miss Herbert said.

Identified as at risk socially, the pupils needed help to build connectedness and friendships.

The Hugo Trust had enabled the network to buy a van two years ago.

Additional financial support came from the Central Lakes Trust and others. Peter Hishon of Tall Poppy made an annual donation, and New World had recently funded adding an electric step to the van.

Anyone interested in using the service or volunteering can email