This week’s meeting focused on one of the most intractable problems of modern life: loneliness and social isolation in old age, and what can be done to help.
Rtn Sandra Wilkinson: Contact the Elderly
Rtn Sandra Wilkinson came to talk to us about an initiative successfully run by the Rotary Club of Bradford West for a number of years, in partnership with the national charity, Contact the Elderly. Sandra has organised a network of club members, who take turns to host a once-a-month Sunday afternoon tea party in their own homes for a group of people identified by Contact the Elderly. The eight guests, seven women and one man, all in their 80s or 90s, all live independently but alone, with little family or other social contact. We were shown a moving video in which the participants spoke of the difference a monthly outing to the tea party makes to their morale, and how much they look forward to it each month. They all spoke of their joy in getting out of their flats, becoming friends with the other group members and hosts, their enjoyment of the tea, cakes and trifle, and being in a family environment in someone else’s home. The participating Rotarians clearly also found the experience uplifting.
Sandra told us the commitment required from the club is not onerous. She has twelve hosts, so each one is only required to organise one party each year. Their houses don’t have too many steps and all have a downstairs loo. There is also a requirement for a rota of at least four drivers to collect and take home the guests each month. In practice, most drivers stay for the party, so their time commitment is monthly. Hosts and drivers need a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) certificate. Contact the Elderly organises and pays for this: a tiresome requirement in my view, but required for many Rotary activities these days.
We were grateful to Sandra for introducing such a simple idea that is so effective in ‘bringing laughter, conversation and friendship back into their lives’. Since their first tea party held in 1965, Contact the Elderly has supported more than 100,000 lonely older people. The club will wish to consider carefully whether we are able to do something similar for the elderly in Roundhay.
Katty Keyhani: Royal Voluntary Service
We were then able to look at some other volunteering initiatives to help the elderly organised by the Royal Voluntary Service. We had a helpful introductory talk from Katty Keyhani, their Leeds Neighbourhood Services Manager. She told us of a project ‘home from hospital’ which provides much needed support for the first weeks when someone returns from hospital and is helped with shopping, banking, collecting prescriptions etc. There is a ‘good neighbours’ scheme which delivers similar services over a longer period when needed. There is a particular need for support for families contending with dementia. On a more simple level, there is great demand for volunteer drivers to help when public transport is not an option.
The club is shortly to go through the ‘Club Visioning Process’. This week’s meeting provided material for us to consider.
Other club news
Jean Clennell reported that the Young Musicians Event at Roundhay School had raised £501.00 for our charitable funds. Our thanks to Jean and Kathy for organising such a worthwhile event: I suspect that the charitable windfall is considerably assisted by their generosity in the tea cakes and fizz department.