Here in Yorkshire, we know all too well the soothing powers of a good cuppa. And, according to national charity Contact The Elderly, the benefits may go further than even we realise.
Each month in the city, volunteers from Contact The Elderly host tea parties for lonely Sheffield pensioners, providing a lifeline of friendship and company. And they’ve been doing it for decades, with the charity celebrating its Golden Jubilee this year.
“Fifty years hosting tea parties in the city is quite an achievement,” said Angela Handforth, the Yorkshire and Derbyshire Development Officer for Contact The Elderly.
“The work we do in this region is vital to helping stave off isolation and loneliness among older people who live alone and for whom these monthly get togethers are a highlight in their calendar.
“We always host our tea parties on Sundays as we know what a difficult day it can be. A lot of things are closed and it’s often thought of as a family day, particularly for people of this generation. If Sunday used to be a special family day for people and now they perhaps don’t have family around, it can be a really tough time so we try to make it as special as we can.”
There are currently three groups in Sheffield holding monthly tea parties. The charity has ‘host’ volunteers, who each host one or two tea parties a year, and ‘driver’ volunteers, who collect people from their homes and accompany them to the gatherings.
And, according to Angela, the volunteers often get as much out of the experience as the members do.
“We have volunteers of all ages, from early twenties right up to well past retirement age,” she said.
“Our groups are small and intimate, about eight members in each, so they really do become like extended families for both the members and the volunteers, which is lovely.
“We even have host families - mums and dads with young children who perhaps don’t live close to grandparents, or maybe they’re not around anymore, and the parents don’t want their children missing out on contact with that older generation. We have fantastic bonds between our volunteers and the elderly people they support.
“Some of our groups have been going for years and, in fact, one of our Sheffield groups is decades old.”
But Angela revealed that in order for this vital service to continue long term, it is essential that more volunteers get involved within the region.
She explained: “We’re in real danger of events like these ending if we can’t get more people to join us and give up just a little of their time to make a difference.
“It’s honestly not a big commitment - people can put in as much or as little time as they’re able. We’re looking for anyone who can spare a couple of hours one Sunday a month, who has a car - and a capacity for drinking tea! We need people to collect older people from their homes and bring them to the tea party. We’re also looking for people interested in hosting a tea party. It’s just a couple of hours once or twice a year, which I think most people would be happy to consider, and it means so much.”
Louise, 39, of Dore, has been volunteering with Contact for the past two years. She said: “I saw an advert for volunteers and, as I’ve got two small children I don’t have tons of free times, but I always wanted to do some sort of voluntary work. This is perfect, it’s just a few hours a month, so it’s not a massive commitment, and it’s fun, really enjoyable and incredibly worthwhile.”
One elderly member said: “When you lose your husband, people are afraid to talk to you. I was so lonely before, and I’m not now because I’ve made such a lot of lovely friends.
“Going to the tea parties brought me out of my shell and back to my old self. I’m much happier now.”
Another added: “Once you are old you become a nobody, but Contact has changed all that. Being taken by my lovely driver and welcomed into someone’s home has given me back my self-esteem, and gives me something to look forward to every month.”
To become a volunteer host, you need to be able to accommodate a group of eight or more people in your home, have downstairs bathroom facilities and provide an afternoon tea once or twice a year.
If you’re interested in learning more about volunteering, contact Angela on email@example.com or call 0114 2302343.