Senior Community Friendship Club: Reconnecting Lancashire's elderly folks with their creative and social sides
In 2016, Patricia Calway was visiting local care homes with her PAT (Pets As Therapy) dog when she realised something.
“I noticed the people there were generally intelligent and physically okay, but they just couldn’t manage on their own anymore,” explains Patricia, then living in the Lake District. “But, when they got there, you could see them visibly deteriorate because they’d close down and not go out.
“They’d stop talking to new people, so I thought ‘if only we can find something of interest to them which can get them out and about...’”
In the end, Patricia didn’t find something, she started something: the Senior Community Friendship Club.
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Catering for elderly people keen to take part in communal activities of interest to them but who would otherwise not be able to access such activities on their own, the group is out to tackle mental well-being issues, social isolation, and deteriorating quality of life.
“Even though the homes do run activities, it’s not quite the same as getting out and meeting other people, so I decided to start a friendship group and target the care homes so that residents could take part in a monthly meeting,” says Patricia, 72, who now lives in Rossendale. “People can become institutionalised and too used to not going out.
“We’d do something different every month and have lots of tea and cake,” she adds. “We’d get people from care homes, people from their own homes, people with dementia, people with disabilities and it really worked. It was great; people came from all over and we even put on transport. And seeing how well it did was my motivation.
“It was about giving people an interest to keep going and the face-to-face interaction was brilliant,” says Patricia. “Everybody was welcome. I used to be an Alzheimer’s visitor and I always used to take my patients out because of how important that interaction and autonomy was and still is. Everybody always enjoys it.”
Having grown to become a hugely-valued, self-funding, and non-profit organisation which offers seniors a wide range of activities, the progress made by the Senior Community Friendship Club was somewhat hampered by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Not to be dissuaded, however, Patricia merely took the service online and made it Lancashire-wide.
“I’m IT-literate, but I’m not a whizz, so sorting the website was difficult and, because some older people aren’t as familiar with the online side of things, you’ve lost a lot of your audience,” she says, with the service’s online activities designed by and for seniors. “I don’t think you can substitute face-to-face for online, but that community element was still incredibly important.”
Senior Community Friendship Club’s website now allows people to access relevant info as well as online activities such as sing-alongs, poetry, stories, and much more. Having encouraged input from care homes, the club updates the site four times a year in line with the seasons so as to offer new content and bring a little sunshine into people’s lives.
“You’d see a big difference in the people who started coming to the groups because it became an outlet,” says Patricia, who’s considering starting a new in-person group in Rossendale. “Even people with dementia - they may not register what they’re doing or remember it, but they enjoyed it when they were there, so why not do that for them?
“It’s always been fulfilling to be a part of because I’m a Christian, so I see my job as helping people in the community,” she adds, pointing out that the online offering helped people maintain crucial social links at a time when that personal touch was sorely missing from plenty of people’s lives. “That’s what God wants me to do, so I do my best in whatever I can.
“Something else which is important is the physical nature of being able to give someone a hug. That element of humanity is vital and we’ve missed it.”