Gateshead Seniors Group tackles loneliness this Christmas
published on 12 Dec 2022
This Christmas at Gateshead Salvation Army, people are finding fun, friendship and new adventures at a Seniors Group.
Each Wednesday morning a group of about 20 older people come together to socialise, learn new skills and hear from speakers. The group brings people together and helps tackle loneliness and isolation – with one member saying it has given her a reason to keep on living.
Recent activities have included teaming up with Beamish Museum in County Durham to share memories of the 1950s which helped influence a 1950s village recreation at the museum and a trip to the seaside for fish and chips.
With Christmas a lonely time for older people who may not have family close by, the church and charity hosted a Christmas party and a visit to the local pantomime.
Community Manager Ann Humes, who runs the group and works closely with Corps Officer Lt Tony Kakande and a team of volunteers, said: “The senior group really makes me smile. Our aim is to try different things. We know an activity might not suit everybody, so we’ve done a raft of interesting things and the response has been lovely.
“We did a project with Beamish Museum who were recreating a 1950s village and wanted our people’s views on living in that decade, then we had our first trip out to visit the village. It was great to see people relaxing and enjoying themselves.
“We have been for afternoon tea for one of our member’s birthdays and had a Michael Ball sing alike come to celebrate one of our lady’s 80th . One member is Egyptian so cooked some Egyptian food for us to taste, which went down really well. Our seniors also helped polish and sort shoes for the Every Child Warm Project, which provides coats and shoes to children in the community.
“The children from our groups came in to teach people how to use their mobiles. They taught one of our ladies to text, she said ‘after all those years reading and thinking I couldn’t text back I can do it now!’ They shared the games they play on their Ipads and our seniors showed them Dominoes and card games. The kids had never played ‘Snap’ and thought people slamming their hands down on the table was brilliant, they were all doing it by the end. Sometimes the simplest things are the best.
“We had a lady come to teach mindfulness and meditation. The majority found it really interesting. She showed us some relaxation techniques and we brought the Bible reading round to that and a fabulous prayer which people took home with them.”
The group meets for a few hours where they will have a talk or activity, time to socialise with each other and then lunch. It also allows Ann the time to talk to people and see if Gateshead Corps can help in other ways, perhaps with a food parcel or referrals to other agencies.
There are a mixture of people who have been members of The Salvation Army or have a family connection, or have never been before, but are looking for friendship or activities to do during the day.
Ann continued: “Some people who you might not think would enjoy it tell me they love it. For me, seeing the difference our group has made is brilliant. Everybody is great, they talk to each other, a lot of it is conversation and new friendships have been formed.
“People have bravely shared stories from their past and have been met with open hearts and minds, it’s brilliant.”
Lt Tony added: “During Covid, we could see that older people felt isolated and while we were in regular contact with them in different ways, their physical and mental health suffered, but we have seen with this group how people have blossomed, how connection with others has helped not only their mental health, but physically as well. People who were really quite unwell are now coming here every week and are thriving.”
For Marilyn*, 77, the group is a lifeline. Her friendships created at The Salvation Army have helped her cope with some of the traumatic events of her past after she left an abusive relationship and became homeless.
After months of sleeping rough, Marilyn was offered a place by the Council and came into contact with Ann. Having grown up in a Salvation Army family, Marilyn reconnected with the church and charity through the Gateshead group.
Marilyn said: “When the Council offered me a place, I saw an advert from someone selling furniture due to moving house and that turned out to be Ann. Ann happened to mention The Salvation Army and I told her about my connection. We sat and talked she told me about the Seniors Group. I asked if I could come and she said ‘of course’.
“Ann has helped me a great deal. Honestly, to me she is more than just a leader, I think of her as family, she’s amazing.
“Coming to this group has given me a reason to keep living. If I wasn’t coming here I think I would just give up, I would think ‘I’ve had enough’. Ann keeps us going, she’s a wonderful, wonderful human, she has a heart of gold.
“At the group, we sit and have a chat and make friends. I tell people ‘come whenever you can and you will be made to feel welcome’.”
The group recently celebrated Christmas with a meal and a party, and some members are going to a pantomime.
Ann added: “Christmas can be a lonely time for people, especially if they live on their own or their family are far away, or they don’t have family.
“We always make sure to do things and share our Christian love in ways that make them smile. As we come towards celebrating our first year as a Seniors Group we are looking forward to our Secret Santa gifts and sharing in the Christmas Cake made for us by one of our 85-year-old members.”