Tea, chat and friendship: breaking the silence

Tea, chat and friendship: breaking the silence

As we know, the impact of loneliness and social isolation on older people is a cause for concern. Whilst there are issues out there that need addressing, many charities have been stepping up to the mark and offering an important lifeline to people across the country. Here, the charity Contact the Elderly tell Mature Times about their work and how older people can benefit:

“As people grow older, they can become invisible in society. Illness, reduced mobility or bereavement can significantly affect an older person‘s ability to leave home, socialise and feel part of the community. A lack of family nearby, dissolving care services and the disappearance of community spaces can exacerbate this. The detrimental effects of loneliness on both mental and physical health are increasingly well documented.

Since 1965, Contact the Elderly has been inspiring communities to come together and make a difference. Supported by a volunteer network of thousands, the charity organises free monthly Sunday afternoon tea parties for small groups of older people in volunteer’s homes across England, Scotland and Wales, as well as recently starting our first ever group in Northern Ireland!

Over 810 groups nationwide provide a regular, consistent and vital friendship link every month to more than 6,100 older people aged 75 and over who live alone, without family or friends nearby. At the same time, over 11,000 volunteers find enjoyment and fulfilment in helping us achieve our aims.
Volunteer Hannah says: “It’s fantastic to see the older guests connecting with each other. You can tell that these parties mean so much to them all and it’s something they clearly look forward to.”

Many of our older guests struggle to leave their homes without the sort of assistance our volunteers provide. Nearly two-thirds of our older guests report that they only receive visits, other than from a carer or similar, just once a week or less. However, through our tea parties, 95% of guests say they now have something to look forward to, 77% say they feel happier and 73% feel less lonely.

‘’When you get to my age, all you do is look back at the life you had, but Contact the Elderly has given me something to look forward to, something to live for.’’ says Joan, one of our guests.

Our tea parties are such a simple idea but are so effective, changing lives profoundly:

  • Our service is completely free. Anyone, regardless of his or her economic situation, can come along to afternoon tea.
  • Our tea parties always take place on Sundays, when many other services and organisations do not operate. A majority of our guests tell us that Sunday is the loneliest day of the week.
  • Door-to-door transport is provided. This is essential for older people who struggle with reduced mobility and cannot navigate public transport.
  • Regularity of the group – the same people meet each month, creating a continuity that allows friendships to blossom.

Irene, one of our older guests says: ‘’I feel uplifted after going to a tea party on a Sunday afternoon. I’ve met new people and made new friends. It’s just amazing how the volunteers welcome older people into their homes as their friends. It’s a marvellous feeling and I definitely recommend it to other people in my situation.’’

There are many ways you can get involved with Contact the Elderly. You might wish to become a guest at a tea party, or know someone in your family or community who would appreciate the monthly outing. Alternatively, you might like to sign up as a volunteer – we are especially keen for new drivers and group coordinators who can make a monthly commitment – or you may wish to host a tea party more occasionally.

Lastly, we are always looking for more support, so whether you’d like to give to our work yourself, with others or encourage your workplace to get involved, we’d love to hear from you!”

For more information about Contact the Elderly, and to find tea party groups in your area, please visit www.contact-the-elderly.org.uk or telephone Freephone 0800 716 543