20-year mission to combat loneliness moves over to phone this Christmas

published on 17 Nov 2020

Tom and Barbara Hoyles have been co-ordinating the 'friendship club' in Romford for two decades and Christmas will look very different to them this year…

Tom said: “We have changed how we do things, but we have still kept our group alive and connected by phoning round each other, we’ve been doing this since we had to stop meeting back in the spring. We will certainly continue this over Christmas and will send each other Christmas cards. Our weekly chats have kept us talking and communicating, ready for when we all hope to return together…whenever that may be!

“Our mission has always been to combat loneliness with or without coronavirus. The effects of loneliness are real and serious. Most of our number are ladies who may have lost their partners and need to find company and activities. We will never turn anyone away who needs a safe place to find friendship”.

Barbara and Tom Hoyles, Christmas 2019 (taken before COVID-19 in UK)

Romford corps has always had a strong, fun and vibrant older people’s ministry, the friendship club typically attracted around 150 people on Thursdays, before the first national lockdown in March.

Tom said: “Normally people see The Salvation Army in the town at Christmas, playing outside M&S and collecting, we can’t do that this year, but we have kept our friendships strong, by talking together and also marking significant events, such as birthdays. We started phoning our group members in April, when we knew the lockdown was going to carry on. We asked 10 members if they would be responsible to phone another 10 people in the friendship club. From there, people have phoned each other once a week, even if they didn’t originally know each other that well. So much has changed for us in the last year with coronavirus.

The friendship club enjoyed a Christmas meal together in 2019 (taken before COVID-19)

One of those who relies on the friendship club and their ring arounds is 83-year-old Maureen. She said: “I started coming to The Salvation Army friendship club about six months after my husband died. I’ve been able to meet up with some members in small groups, at local cafes. By talking to other members on the phone, I have got to know more people”.

Phylis doesn’t get lonely, as her son only lives six doors away and she has met others from the friendship club in small gatherings, when safe to do so. She said: “It means a lot, to find out what other people have been up to. You can phone a person every day from the group and talk which is great”.

Tom said: “Some of our number have passed away (15 in the last year), while some of us have lost our children. Every year we have a club Christmas carol service in order to specially remember those we’ve lost. We don’t expect to be able to hold this service again this year, but all of us continue to remember those we’ve lost, even if we can’t come together to do it”.

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