The moment we walked through the doors of the Community Café at Shirland Village Hall, the atmosphere was alive with companionship.
The Community Café – which was launched by Shirland Ward’s Healthy Futures Group – has proved hugely successful in connecting the older generation of Shirland and surrounding areas. Supported by our Generation Games initiative, it enables people to be active and social together in friendly, welcoming surroundings.
According to Age UK, more than 2 million people in England over the age of 75 live alone, and more than a million older people say they go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member. This can lead to a serious decline in physical health and wellbeing so events like this are crucial in enabling the older generation to continue to live active, social lives.
Although the café only officially launched in August 2018, this month’s event saw an impressive 27 people attending. A small £1 entrance fee gets them food and drink, an activity – which this month was kurling and darts but has also included chair-based exercise, boccia and dancing – and games to play, with bingo and a raffle on offer as well. Transport is available to pick people up who otherwise wouldn’t be able to make it.
It was also an opportunity for Generation Games Officer Debbie to hand out incentives for people who’ve completed three, six or 12 months on the programme as well as signing new people up.
Volunteers run the majority of the café with support from partners. The aim is to slowly reduce support until the café is able to sustain itself and be run completely by the community.
As we chatted to people it was clear how important coming together was for those who were isolated for whatever reason – from losing partners to losing their driving license.
It was the little things which highlighted the camaraderie – from a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday, to a lady returning a raffle prize after her third ticket number had been drawn out.
We chatted to a few people who explained what they get from coming along:
Sheila said: “I don’t get out of the house much apart from when I go to visit my blind friend, that’s the extent of my social life. I used to love dancing but it’s caused problems with my bones. Everybody here is really friendly and they don’t push you into doing anything you don’t want to do.”
Susan said: “I really enjoyed the dancing at Christmas. I used to dance in my younger days but there’s no where else to go dancing now and I don’t have anyone to go with since I lost my husband.”
One gentleman said: “It’s good to get people out of the house. I bring one gentleman who’s had his driving license taken away from him because of problems with his leg so he struggles to get out. He really enjoys the kurling because he can do it sitting down.”
Taking over the reigns
A big part of taking a step back involves having volunteers to run different parts of the café. Rhona and Sheila came forward to volunteer to lead the kurling as well as involving themselves in other aspects.
They explain: “It’s been really fun doing the kurling and we’ve enjoyed doing something new. The atmosphere has felt different today, a lot calmer.
“We started at the outset helping Anne [who leads the café] but we’ve naturally started involving ourselves with even more.
“We just love doing things like this. We want to do more things to help the mind like quizzes, which seem to go down really well.
“It’s really encouraging people keep coming. People come and then they bring their friends. Lots of people say not many groups are open to everyone but this one is.”
Passionate about building a positive community
We managed to catch up with one of the lead volunteers Anne, as she finally took a well earned sit down after delivering some of the participants safely back to their homes. Having been a volunteer in Shirland since 2002, Anne helps to run the village hall and is clearly passionate about building a positive community where she lives.
She said: “I used to live abroad when my husband was in the forces and there was such a strong sense of community living there. All the wives would support each other and I was involved in running the Brownies. It was quite a shock returning to civilian life.
“It was a natural progression when I returned to get into volunteering here. I’m really community spirited and I like organising things. I could never just sit at home doing nothing.
“The Community Café has really gone from strength to strength. It’s brilliant how it’s not just all females here. I’ve never known anything else which has got so many men involved too.
“We’re seeing new people coming all the time. I make sure I take any new people and introduce them to others – no one will ever be sat on their own. A new lady who came today has already offered to come and teach backgammon. That’s the social side which I think is why it’s taken off so well.”
Absent from today’s Community Café was volunteer Heather, who like Anne has been heavily involved in running things. Particularly in the kitchen where she’s worked tirelessly to serve food and drink to visitors. Heather was busy volunteering in one of her other Community Health Champion roles at a dementia friendly screening in Chesterfield.