Group that helps lonely in Sheffield could close due to lack of volunteers

A charity which helps reconnect socially isolated people has seen a hike in demand as winter draws in, with a service in South Yorkshire close to breaking point due to lack of volunteers.

A thriving Contact the Elderly group in Wakefield. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Contact the Elderly, which holds tea parties for lonely people over 75, has a waiting list of over 2,000 people nationwide and has a particular need for volunteers living in Sheffield.

The Sheffield group is currently at risk of closure as it does not have enough people to drive and accompany people to local parties.

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The charity’s South Yorkshire and Derbyshire Development Officer, Angela Handforth, said: “The charity is committed to offering a lifeline of friendship to the oldest and loneliest people, but this lifeline is currently under threat in Sheffield, due to a real shortage of volunteer drivers in the area.

“Anyone who can spare a couple of hours one Sunday a month, has a driving licence, a car, and a capacity for drinking tea, is eligible. It’s not a big commitment, and our volunteers genuinely get as much out of the experience as our older guests, so I’m calling for anyone who is interested in giving something back to their community to please get in touch with me as soon as possible.”

Across Yorkshire, 350 elderly guests attend Contact the Elderly’s monthly tea parties.

When the charity started in 1965 it’s aim was simple, ensure those most at risk of loneliness get the companionship and support they deserve by bringing together groups of older people for monthly tea parties.

And with the number of isolate older people continuing to rise, its work is more important than ever.

The charity’s research shows 17 per cent of older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week and 11 per cent are in contact less than once a month.

It’s currently receiving 160 new enquiries a month, but needs funding to get new groups established.

Contact the Elderly’s chief executive, Mary Rance, said: “It’s frustrating because we have volunteers across the country ready and waiting to help us provide this vital lifeline of human interaction to older people, but with demand growing so rapidly we need initial start-up funding to get new tea party groups off the ground.”

“It costs us just over five thousand pounds to develop, launch and support a new tea party group in its first year. It’s important to establish them in a way that means they can run effectively for years and years. We have 72 groups ready to go – we just need the financial boost to get them off the ground.

“Those on our waiting list have reached out to us for help, and we want to ensure this support comes fast. We know that there are thousands more older people that would benefit from our support. But by its nature, social isolation often means that the loneliest people are the hardest to reach.”

To help in Sheffield, contact Angela Handforth on 0114 230 2343 or email [email protected]

For more information on volunteering elsewhere in Yorkshire, or to find out how to attend, call 01535 632592 or visit