Jean and Gordon Leadbeater, the parents of murdered Batley MP Jo Cox, and Claire Throssell, whose sons Jack, 12, and Paul, nine, were killed by their father in a house fire in Penistone in 2014, were the guests of honour at a tea party that aims to bring isolated and lonely people together in Barnsley on Tuesday.
It is almost four years since the monthly Superjam parties were first held, hosted by Barnsley Rockley Rotary Club and its counterpart in Stainborough, and yesterday’s event saw more than 170 people enjoy music, afternoon tea, and company - something that many of the guests find themselves without all too often.
Miss Throssell, who has campaigned for the rights of children in access battles, attended the party with her mother Pam, 77, and said both can emphasise with those experiencing loneliness.
“Because of what happened to me, I am always lonely,” she said. “I can walk into a room full of people who love me, but it’s the loneliest place in the world because the two faces I want to see aren’t there. There’s a black void there and it is overwhelming.
“My mum, her mobility is bad, she has bad hips and a bad knee, and coming here is nice for her, surrounded by people her own age and not stuck in the house.”
Miss Throssell, of Penistone, added: “Some ladies here have given 50 years of their lives to their partners, and all of sudden, they are left with nobody, no social circle, when they pass away. This is a safe place for people to make friends and support other people who are experiencing the same loneliness.”
Event founder Kathy Markwick was inspired to start the parties after she struck by the loneliness and social isolation felt by many older people she met while working in the care sector.
Mrs Leadbeater, who was invited to the event after meeting Mrs Markwick at the launch of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness last year, said: “Jo would have loved this - it’s what it is all about, bringing people together.
“In one way, it’s wonderful, but in another, it’s so very sad that there is a need for events like this, but Jo recognised that before she was murdered - that even among young people, loneliness is a big issue around the country. Jo felt it herself, when she went to university.”
The Leadbeaters have been heavily involved in the work of the More in Common group in their hometown of Batley, and are passionate about continuing the work their daughter started in raising awareness of the issue of loneliness, along with their other daughter Kim. This year the Prime Minister accepted recommendations made by the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness and announced the first ever minister for loneliness, Tracey Crouch.
Mrs Leadbeater said: “We have been delighted with the results, and we know Jo would have been thrilled.”
Mr Leadbeater added: “Coming here has been great for us because it gives us the wider perspective about how loneliness is affecting people around the country. The Commission has been a catalyst for change.”
While many of the guests at the party of from older generations, younger people are also welcome.
Mrs Markwick said: “The people who come along each month really look forward to it. We don’t start until 1pm, but they start coming through the door at 11.45am.
“One man came along for the first time, on his own, and was shy outside but once he hit the dance floor he was busting out the moves. Another lady, who has dementia, may not remember it when she gets home but has been having a wonderful time in the moment.”
In December 2015, Mrs Markwick was a guest of the Yorkshire Post at a Christmas Party hosted by then-Prime Minister David Cameron and the newspaper in recognition of its award-winning loneliness campaign, Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic.
Along with her were Phylliss and Brian Wilkinson, of Deepcar, who attended the tea parties.
Mrs Wilkinson, 73, was at Tuesday’s event, but without her husband Brian, who died just weeks ago after a nine-year battle with dementia.
She said: “Brian loved it at the parties because he could meet so many people. He loved to get up and have a dance, and it was a chance for him, and for me, to enjoy just getting out and doing something normal.
“Brian had dementia for nine years. At first, you wouldn’t have known, but towards the end it was more noticeable,. But here, it didn’t matter, because he was surrounded by people.”