Virtual Friendship Lunches are a ‘lifeline’ to Sheffield’s lonely and vulnerable
“Some mornings I can hardly bother getting up, as I have nowhere to go,” confesses 86-year-old Len Hopkins.
“At first lockdown was a bit of a novelty, going around the garden doing a bit here and there, but then I started to miss the company of people.
“Now when the weather is poor and I’m stuck indoors, it gets depressing.”
Len is just one of a number of people in Sheffield who are missing the social aspect of the city’s Friendship Lunches, which have been running for the past few years.
The first Friendship Lunch was held at the Crosspool Tavern in 2016, and since then, events have been held monthly at venues across Sheffield.
Organiser Kathy Marwick said: “The lunches are always really popular, with around 40 guests each time, and a good mixture of old and new faces.
“The lockdown has been very difficult for many of our guests, particularly those who do not have family.
“The Friendship Lunches give people something to look forward to, and everyone I’ve spoken to is eagerly awaiting dates for events.”
With no new gatherings on the horizon, Kathy recently decided to organise a virtual Friendship Lunch, on Facebook Live, to give her guests the chance to reunite online, and enjoy an afternoon of music.
Kathy added: “Bernadette House in Lincoln hosted our first virtual Friendship Lunch earlier this month – which also raised funds for the Sheffield Children's Hospital Christmas Snowflake Appeal – and booked two of my local entertainers - Stevie Moore and Patricia Lynn - to perform.
“It was a perfect afternoon for people like Len, who are undoubtedly suffering with loneliness and social isolation.
“I am delighted that similar events are now being held across South Yorkshire.”
Len added: “The Facebook Live shows have been a lifeline.
“They give me a lot of pleasure and really do help with the feeling of loneliness, as they remind me of the love and happiness that is still all around.
“I still can’t wait for the real thing, complete with a bit of dancing, and food, when we can clap and show our appreciation for the performers in real life.
“So thank you to Kathy, and the Friendship Lunches, for all the fun of the past, and I cannot wait for the good times to come again.”
Coun Tony Downing, Lord Mayor of Sheffield, said: “I would like to add my support and gratitude on behalf of Sheffield City Council to the fantastic work that Kathy Markwick does in organising the Friendship Lunches.
“My wife and I have been privileged to attend some of these events and seen the difference they make to older people, and people with disabilities, bringing communities together.
“Social isolation has a devastating effect on people’s health and wellbeing, and the Friendship Lunches give an escape from being sat at home alone, and an opportunity to come together and meet others and make new friends.
“I would like to thank everyone involved in helping to make loneliness more bearable for the most vulnerable in our city.”