How one good Christmas deed in a Northants village turned into a new friendship club to combat loneliness
Volunteers run the group and even pick up those guests who cannot get out of the house by themselves
A group of volunteers from a Northamptonshire village who wanted to help combat loneliness by putting on a Christmas lunch for elderly people have now turned the idea into a social group that meets regularly.
Volunteers who are part of the Blisworth Progress Group realised there were not any groups to help isolated and lonely people.
So they decided to put on a free festive feast in a bid to get people talking.
Janet Steeper, who is one of the volunteers behind the Christmas lunch and the new meetings, said: “There was nothing for the lonely or the elderly so we wanted to do something.
“There are already a lot of groups in this village like mum's clubs and arts and crafts groups, so we asked all of those groups to nominate two lonely people who deserved a free Christmas dinner.
“We had 35 people nominated by neighbours and friends so we had to quickly raise the money to host the dinner.
“We got money from the parish council and everyone in this village is so generous.
“I was walking down the street and someone gave me a fiver.
“Word got around the village that quickly that within two weeks it was all organised.
“We cooked five courses and one of our volunteers made a huge Christmas pudding and we lit up. Everyone loved it.
“We weren’t sure how it was going to go but it exceeded all expectations. It was amazing.”
The group of volunteers asked those who attended the Christmas lunch if they would be interested in a more regular friendship group.
Janet said: “We were met with cheers and a lot of people saying ‘yes please’, so we made it happen.
“When I went round to introduce myself to people before the first January meeting, some people said they hadn’t been out of the house since Christmas and you just can’t help but do something for them.”
The group met for the first time on January 15 when they had 32 people attend the session for tea, coffee, cake, a raffle, a small activity and lots of talking.
Janet explained: “I have worked in catering all my life and I’ve been president of a Women’s Institute so I feel like I know what these people want.
“We have bottomless tea and lots of coffee.
“We make sure we take the tea and coffee to them rather than them helping themselves. We don’t want anyone to have a nasty accident.
“Last time we did a little quiz that was simple and easy. All the answers were sweets and chocolates.
“This week we have baby photos of all us volunteers on a board. We’ve all got name badges on today and the guests have to guess who is who.
“It’s just a quick activity and ice breaker to get them talking.
“We don’t need much as most of them just like to talk to each other. They’re happy to get out and talk to somebody and have some company for a while.
“There are a lot of happy, smiley faces so that’s lovely. We do really feel like we are making a difference.”
There are around 12 people who volunteer to make this group a success, as well as a number of drivers who pick those guests up who cannot get out of the house by themselves.
Janet, who is 74, added: “We are helping elderly people but most of us are in our 70s as well, but we’re all fit and able and that is the difference.
“The ladies do amazingly, even carrying tables from the cupboard to the function room.
“There’s always somebody to help. The comradeship in this village and the help is brilliant.”
The second meeting of the group today (January 29), saw around 25 people turn up and the room was filled with a lot of chatter and smiles.
Janet added: “We didn’t want to make it a membership group, we want people to come when they can, they don’t have to come every week.
“We’re working with a vulnerable group and if they don’t feel up to it one week we didn’t want them to feel like they have to come.”
One of the women in attendance at the second meeting said: “It’s great. We get to meet people and get to know others around the village.
“Especially when you’re on your own and do not get out much.
“Everyone is ever so friendly and it’s good to just come and have a chat.
“The ladies do a great job, especially on the Christmas lunch, which was great.”
Another added: “I look forward to it every time.
“It’s something to get out the house for and somewhere to meet people.”
Blisworth Friendship group meets between 2pm and 4pm every other Wednesday at the village’s church hall and it is £3 to attend.