A Yorkshire shopping centre has come up with a great way to help beat loneliness in its community. Sophie McCandlish reports.
A Wakefield shopping centre’s campaign to combat loneliness in older people has been so successful it is being rolled out across the country.
Around 175 older people visit the monthly Cuppa Club set up by The Ridings Shopping Centre working in conjunction with Age UK Wakefield. And that figure rises to more than 200 at Christmas time.
The focus of the event is to provide a friendly, pressure-free meeting place where people can enjoy a cup of tea, slice of cake, a good chat and make new friends.
And for some it has become a lifeline.
Sheila Marsh, who lives alone, is a regular visitor to the Cuppa Club and said being able to meet up with people each month has had a big impact on her life.
“It’s made such a difference to me as I have very few friends that I see in person.
“It gets me out of the house and really cheers me up.”
Now, NewRiver, which owns The Ridings wants to bring the community event into more of its 35 shopping centres and is looking at rolling the Cuppa Club out nationally while Age UK Wakefield District is looking at setting up similar events in other large stores and shopping centres across the district.
Lead for Positive Ageing, Dr Emma Kirkby-Geddes, said the Cuppa Club had proved an invaluable way to reach out to older people.
“Being in the shopping centre means it is in a familiar space where people can come and go as they please. There isn’t the pressure there may be if you had to physically walk through a door into a room full of strangers.”
She also said meeting people at the Cuppa Club had given the charity a valuable insight into how older people in the district were affected by loneliness.
“We know from information we have gathered at the club, that for some of the people attending this is the only social contact they have,” Dr Kirkby-Geddes said.
Mental Health Awareness Week
Loneliness and isolation can also play a large part in mental health, highlighted by this week’s Mental Health Awareness Week which runs until Sunday, May 19.
Research carried out by Age UK nationally showed that loneliness is associated with poorer physical and mental health and lower well being in older people.
It also found that not only is loneliness among older people associated with depression, but that older people experiencing high degrees of loneliness are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as those with a low degree of loneliness.
These are issues the Cuppa Club aims to help combat amongst the Wakefield community.
Lee Appleton, centre director at The Ridings said: “Right from the start we wanted to do something to help older people.
“We know loneliness is a very real problem in our society nationwide and we take our role as part of the Wakefield community very seriously.
“As a business we are aware that more than 30 per cent of our shoppers are over 65 so we were looking for a way to reach out to them.”
With this in mind, The Ridings joined forces with Age UK Wakefield District to hold a Find Friends event on Valentine’s Day 2017.
It was an immediate success with more than 100 people joining in for afternoon tea as well as taking the opportunity to chat with new people.
Afterwards the shopping centre was inundated with people asking if more were planned.
“We couldn’t believe how many people got in touch to ask if it would be a regular event,” said Lee.
“We saw it as a real opportunity and created a regular monthly event which would encourage older people to drop in when they wanted without any pressure.”
Lee said working on Cuppa Club with Age UK Wakefield District was great fun.
There are now music, dance and craft workshops which people can take part in if they fancy learning new things and at Christmas the group is entertained by choirs from local schools.
“Everyone involved in the Cuppa Club is delighted and proud, not only by the success of the project but also by its use as a blueprint for other events across the country,” he said.
Dr Kirkby-Geddes said one of the biggest assets to the Cuppa Club was The Ridings staff.
“They are very friendly and welcoming. They recognise people when they arrive and spend time making them feel comfortable and included.
“We have seen people growing in confidence over the course of their visits and making new friends.
“For a long time we have known loneliness exists in our society and we are always looking for new ways like Cuppa Club to help bring people together,” she said.
Erin Thorne, customer experience manager at NewRiver said: “We’re delighted at how successful the Wakefield Cuppa Club has become and the benefits it’s brought to the community.
“At all our NewRiver shopping centres we take pride in serving our local communities.
“We are really looking forward to rolling out the Cuppa Club concept at more of our shopping centres and look forward to working with Age UK to identify other opportunities to support the local communities around our centres.”
The Cuppa Club is held on the first Thursday of the month. The next event is on Thursday, June 6.