In a small church hall in South Yorkshire, members of Tickhill Pop-In are tucking into a two-course lunch.
The group has been running in the small Doncaster town for 20 years, but after its founder was unable to continue, it was taken on by the Methodist Homes Association (MHA), whose Live At Home scheme, which is designed to help older people retain their independence and tackle isolation, has social groups, activity clubs and befrienders across the region, from Bradford and Leeds to Hull and Sheffield.
For 84-year-old Marina Rushton, it’s the “highlight” of her week.
“My husband is in a home and I’m on my own,” Mrs Ruston, of Tickhill, said. “I love to come and have a laugh.”
She even persuaded her neighbour, Maisie Proust, to come along.
The 96-year-old said: “I love coming, everyone is happy and friendly - you forget your troubles”.
Live at Home schemes are led by the members who attend, some are simply breakfast and lunch clubs, but others include craft clubs exercise classes, men’s groups, tea dances, and day trips. All the schemes are funded through charitable donations, but some, like the Leeds schemes, get grants from local authorities and others, like in Bradford have been awarded Big Lottery Funding. In Doncaster there are three weekly social groups, where the attendees have a two course meal, refreshments, and transport if they need it, provided by volunteers, and in Sheffield, there are nine activity-based groups, such as singing groups and lunch trips.
Live at Home manager Chermayne Bennett said: “The lovely thing about them is that they can be quite unique. The Tickhill group, for example, like games like Scrabble, and speakers, there’s a variety of different things that go on.
“The pure idea is so that people feel part of their community. A lot of people can get left behind as they get older. For anyone to admit they are not coping is a huge challenge.
“Some people think a group might not be for them, but once they get through the door the transformation is amazing.
”This generation has had to be resilient, they put a brave face on.
“I’ve been doing this since 2014 and the need is massive. The amount of referrals we get for one to one befriending, we just cannot keep up with. Isolation is a huge issue.
“Even though people are coming to these groups, they are still lonely. Some will fill their days with things, but it’s the evenings when they will be sat watching television and the isolation hits.
“MHA is based on Christian values of being compassionate and caring but no-one needs to be religious to come along. In Sheffield we’re looking at developing something for isolated muslim women.”
In South Yorkshire, referrals to MHA come from local authorities and social prescribing schemes at GPs surgeries.
Some of the group members have dementia or other health issues, such as anxiety or depression.
Rebecca Bower, community programme coordinator for groups in Tickhill, Woodlands and Carr House, said: “A lot of the people who come to us don’t go out or see anyone all week. They have children or grandchildren, but they work and are busy. They really look forward to coming.”
Tomorrow: The major new campaign encouraging people to look out for their neighbours in West Yorkshire and Harrogate.
What is MHA?
MHA is a charity providing care, accommodation and support services for more than 18,000 older people throughout Britain.
Founded by members of the Methodist Church back in 1943, it now supports 5,000 older people living in its care homes, many receiving specialist dementia or nursing care and 2,500 older people living independently in purpose-built retirement living communities.
Its Live At Home scheme supports 10,500 older people living independently in their own homes.