When Ada Risdale, age 93, became a volunteer in a Welsh befriending scheme, she was putting an end to years of isolation and loneliness. In caring for her husband who had dementia she had lost touch with her friends. ‘You see less and less [sic] people, and when he died I was on my own, which is how a lot of people end up,’ she said. ‘I became very depressed. It’s an awful thing, to have no one to talk to.’[i] Now Ada meets another woman who had been similarly isolated, and they have a coffee and a chat. Ada says it’s good for both of them.
Ada has joined the army of volunteers who are helping others. The value of volunteers to the economy is estimated at about £100 billion every year, but to the charities they benefit and the people they help, they are beyond price.
Our housing and care homes would not be the same without their ‘Friends’ group, people drawn from local evangelical churches who befriend residents, pray with them, sometimes visit them in hospital, and pray for the staff, too. Some years ago, a Social Services executive said that these circles of friends were part of what makes our Charity unique.
Typical is Mary Goodspeed who visits people in our Leonora Home in Chippenham. When asked what she would say to a prospective volunteer she said, “the BBC has said that we are living in the age of loneliness. We can help change that … Some need a chat or simply a listening ear and all need fellowship. It’s a privilege to share in this ministry.”
Hearing stories of isolation like Ada’s, and knowing that 2 ½ million older people are living on their own can make you feel that you are standing on the edge of an ocean of loneliness. But so many churches are like lighthouses in their communities, organising regular activities and day centres, offering warmth, food and friendship – and more.
St John’s Church in Felbridge organised speakers on dementia every Thursday evening last month, inviting people in from the community, including care homes and sheltered housing – everyone they could reach. And before the talk, everyone sat down to a splendid two course meal, including a a glass of wine. Volunteers worked most of the day preparing the place and the meal so that everyone would feel welcome.
Revd Vikki Bunce of Romford Baptist Church emailed news of an early Christmas celebration for 60 seniors at the end of November. Vikki wrote, ‘Our time together started with drinks and catching up with one another or meeting new people before being served a fantastic Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. Between courses there were brain teasers and word quizzes. Then tables were stripped bare of glasses, cloths and crockery before the afternoon activities. Everyone made a snowman donation for the Christmas tree and some got into the party spirit by pinning them on to their clothes or even in their hair! We put actions to the Twelve Days of Christmas song amidst roars of laughter. We also sang Christmas carols, and remembered the real meaning of Christmas with the familiar words of the Christmas story, and a short reflection. We finished the afternoon with a game of Snowman Drive (a derivation of Beetle Drive) and hot drinks and home-made mince pies.’
Vicky added, ‘What is remarkable about such events is that most of the team who run our times are themselves well above the age of those who come along to participate, including two of the key chefs who are in their 70’s! The team’s enthusiasm is infectious and there’s much laughter amidst the brainstorming in the planning meetings. This remarkable group of individuals are looking to host an additional four such themed days in 2018 alongside the Holiday at Home week next year.’
[i] South Wales Argus, Friday December 8, 2017