Last weekend I hosted a Contact the Elderly tea party. Contact the Elderly is a charity that aims to tackle loneliness and isolation among our rapidly ageing population. It was founded in 1965 and is the only national charity with this sole purpose. It is supported by a volunteer network who organise monthly tea parties for small groups of older people across England, Scotland and Wales. These tea parties provide a regular and vital friendship link every month to almost 5,400 older people who live alone, nationwide. At the same time the volunteers – almost double in number – also benefit immensely. The sense of fulfilment and achievement in making the tea party happen, and making so many people smile, is not a myth. I’m still smiling every time I think about it!
My aunt and uncle first introduced me to the charity. They are the charity representatives for Thurrock, Essex. Since September 2015 they have introduced 4 groups of older people who meet regularly, with a fifth group ready to launch, a real testament to the need for these groups in our local area. For almost 2 years my aunt and uncle have given up their spare time at weekends to host tea parties, or to make food in contribution for another volunteer’s party, or to drive tea party guests to and from the party location, all the while with the biggest smiles on their faces. They are a true inspiration in selflessness.
Some volunteers hold the tea parties at their homes, for small groups of up to 8 people. But my tea party was held at a local community hall, so we had 18 people to entertain. And of course a whole host of volunteers to help out on the day too. A little while before the tea party date came around I was told we had another volunteer, a Zumba teacher! She offered her services for free and choreographed a session of ‘sit-down Zumba’ for all of our guests to enjoy. Everyone loved it! There were smiles all round and lots of laughing, which was the ultimate aim for the day. My husband and children came along too and all helped in various ways: my husband was happy chatting to some of our guests, getting into surprisingly deep conversations for a first meeting. My daughter entertained with her own dance moves, and my son made everyone laugh with his insistence on eating every single fondant fancy cake he laid his eyes on…!
I captured some lovely moments on the day, memories being made. Looking at the photographs now I am humbled by the whole situation. These people come together every few weeks and have a fantastic time, but then what happens in between? I like to think that they have other events and activities to fill their time but the sad reality is that most of these people may not see or speak to another person for days on end. And then there are the people who are not lucky enough to yet be part of the Contact the Elderly community, who don’t even have the tea parties to look forward to. It’s enough to upset even the most complacent of people. But there is only so much one person can do, and as long as we do what we can then at least we know that we are doing our best – served with milk, sugar, and a slice of homemade carrot cake.