On a quiet suburban side-road in Pellon, St Columba’s church hall is buzzing to the sound of people talking, singing and laughing who otherwise may be sitting in silence in their own homes.
It is the fourth meeting of the increasingly popular Chat and a Brew group, which has already grown from 17 attendees in the first session before Christmas to around 40 participants at April’s get-together.
The group were given a start-up grant but it is now self-funded. They charge £2 per get-together and their cakes and buns are home-made by the volunteers.
Trish Coyle, chair of the church hall committee, said: “It’s all part of the Staying Well project, they suggested setting-up this group.
“There’s not a great deal out there for elderly people, and there was a survey conducted by a university which suggested social interaction is the biggest benefit to having a long life, more than quitting smoking or eating healthily.
“For the last 10 or 15 years the Irish Society have held a luncheon club on a Thursday, and that is held every fortnight because of the demand.
“We’ve had great feedback so far, people have loved it and loved being able to get out and about.
“I bring a lady to the group from Rastrick, and she doesn’t get out at all during the week, and she says if it wasn’t for this she wouldn’t get out of the house and wouldn’t see anyone until her husband got home.”
Marina Armstrong, a member of the church hall committee, said: “It started off as just coffee and cake but we’ve added activities like indoor kurling, knitting and reading. People just like to come and have a chat.
“But the kurling brings more men in. We only had one man at our first event, but now we’ve got 10 because there’s more for them to do.”
At March’s get-together, 10 ladies were provided with knitting needles and balls of wool, which were taken home to be worked on, with the end result set to be blankets which will be donated to charity.
Sue Watson, a Staying Well committee member and chair of High Five, a community group for over 50’s in Halifax which has 115 members, said: “We have 10 classes at the moment but we want to start another couple.
“We have Tai chi, singing, exercise classes, Pilates, curling, art groups, Scottish dancing and line dancing.
“I’m so passionate about exercise because it keeps people going. If they’re not physically active they can’t then get to social groups.
“I did a CD at Christmas for the members so they could practice the exercises.”
Hayley Conlon, from Staying Well, said: “Groups like High Five and the Chat and a Brew are essential, they make such a difference bringing people together.
“I think (loneliness) is a nationwide problem. You can never find everyone, as much as you want, because some people don’t want to engage, they’re quite happy being on their own.
“But younger people can be isolated too, whether it’s through mental health or a change in circumstances.
“It’s more noticeable in older people but younger people suffer too.”
Kath King, a member of the church hall and Staying Well committees, agrees: “I think there’s a presumption that if you work, you’re not lonely, and that’s not correct. It can happen at any age.”
Pauline Luniw is also a member of the Staying Well committee, and started the Angel’s Corner cafe, which opened on Sunday April 15 at the church hall.
It will open on the third Sunday of every month, costing £2 per person which includes refreshments.
The café caters for vulnerable, isolated people and people with dementia. Visitors can enjoy different activities, listen to music, sing along or chat and
make new friends in a welcoming friendly environment. Activities will include
arts, crafts, games, quizzes, word searches and bingo in a safe, comfortable and supportive environment.
“I was asked to help set-up a dementia-friendly cafe, so I secured a grant and visited lots of other dementia-friendly cafe’s to see how they operated,” she said
“We’ve only had our first session recently, and we got 20 people, which was quite good.
“We set out individual tables but within a few minutes of everyone arriving, they were all crowded around one table talking.
“The Alzheimer’s Society said to me there is a great need for a dementia-friendly cafe in the area, and that the need is most acute at weekends.
“The need is for the carer as much as the person with dementia. There’s a feeling of isolation for a carer because they can think they’re the only one in that situation.
“I spoke to someone who came to the cafe who cares for her husband, and for her it’s an outlet because her husband just sits in the house all day so she doesn’t have much contact with anyone.
“I’m hoping eventually to organise a programme of events such as Tai chi or art.”
Kate Parker-Shiel, 75, lives in Warley. She moved from Halifax to live in Northumberland for 25 years before moving back to Halifax three years ago, and has attended all the Chat and a Brew sessions.
“It’s awful being on your own, it’s horrible,” she said. “You wake up and you think ‘what can I do?’
“But the more you try to get out the more people you meet. I do have family but they have their own lives.
“If you do get out then people will talk to you. The more you stop in the more you go inside yourself.”
The next Chat and a Brew is on Monday, May 14 at 10.30am.
For further information on the Angel’s Corner Cafe, contact Pauline on 07939 100495 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.