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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 06-Nov-14 16:05:29

Tea and time

Trevor Lyttleton is a lawyer and founder of Contact the Elderly. Here, he tells us how important it is that the older generations are not forgotten - and how you could help to make someone's life immeasurably better with just some tea and time.

Trevor Lyttleton

Tea and time

Posted on: Thu 06-Nov-14 16:05:29


Lead photo

Just some tea and time can make a real difference to an older person.

Chronic loneliness is an ever increasing problem in the UK, with more than one million socially isolated older people. While the Government has acknowledged how much of an issue there is - MP Jeremy Hunt called it a "national disgrace" - those actually addressing it are organisations that rely heavily on volunteers and independent funding. One such organisation is Contact the Elderly.

Almost 50 years ago, in 1965, I founded Contact the Elderly with the sole aim of tackling social isolation amongst people aged 75 and older. It all started when I was a young bachelor, out with friends on a trip to our local supermarket where we met an older lady and struck up a conversation.

The lady lived in a high-rise flat with no electricity and absolutely no-one for company. Her visit to the shops was the only human interaction that she had in her life, and the thought of heading back into her lonely flat filled her with dread.

After visiting Westminster Local Authority I discovered that this one person was not an anomaly; sadly there were many more in her situation. Shocked at the number of people who just wanted a conversation and human interaction, I set up Contact the Elderly.

The lady lived in a high-rise flat with no electricity and absolutely no-one for company. Her visit to the shops was the only human interaction that she had in her life, and the thought of heading back into her lonely flat filled her with dread.

Every month, Contact the Elderly holds free tea parties for people aged 75 and older who live alone. The tea parties are hosted by volunteers who provide sandwiches, tea and cake for eight older guests and their volunteer drivers on a Sunday afternoon. The volunteer drivers pick up the same older guest from their home each month and take them to the differing hosts' homes.

We have found that this is a simple and effective way of forging friendships and ensuring our older generation is not forgotten. There are a huge number of people who are alone through circumstance rather than choice and they need to have an option. Lack of mobility, geographical distance between family and bereavement can leave the greatest social butterfly with only the TV for company - a story, unfortunately, that we hear all too often.

For isolated older people in the UK there can be periods of days, weeks, even months where they see no-one, so spending an afternoon in company makes a huge difference. Getting involved is incredibly easy - whether you can spare one afternoon a year, or one each month, Contact the Elderly needs your help. To host, all that is required is a downstairs toilet, a few cakes and sandwiches and a welcoming smile; while drivers need a driving licence and access to a car. The time commitment is small but the result is immeasurable.

As we head into our 50th Jubilee Year, 2015, we are looking to establish 125 new groups in communities across England, Scotland and Wales. If you feel you can help in terms of funding or volunteering, please do get in touch.

Contact the Elderly operates in England, Scotland and Wales with more than 550 tea parties taking place each month, helping over 4,500 older people. Older guests and volunteers of all ages (17-95!) form lasting friendships that fight loneliness head on.

By Trevor Lyttleton

Twitter: @contact_teas

gillybob Thu 06-Nov-14 16:33:54

I run my own "tea and time" scheme for which I sadly receive no funding, donations or (sometimes) even thanks (depending what sort of mood she's in). smile

On a serious note I always find it particularly sad that some elderly people receive little or no visitors depite the fact that they have quite large families.

merlotgran Thu 06-Nov-14 16:40:03

I wish my mother had settled for a bit of tea and time. If I ever popped in for a cuppa she'd meet me at the door with her coat on and instructions as to where I'd be taking her hmm

nanaseaside Tue 11-Nov-14 22:50:50

What a great idea! Well done Trevor. Social isolation and loneliness are only going to get more common as the elderly population increases and daycentres continue to close through lack of funding. I am aware of voluntary schemes whereby a single volunteer visits an elderly person at home but I think some prospective volunteers find the thought of one-to-one quite hard going and maybe too much responsibility. Group activities can be easier as everyone is part of a team. There would be greater variety and benefit for the visitors and volunteers. Further down the line, any one of us could end up socially isolated and lonely due to circumstances beyond our control........