Volunteer befrienders across Belfast have been brewing up a series of new afternoon tea events aimed at supporting vulnerable older people who experience social isolation and loneliness to establish new friendships, create connections and enjoy a social day out.
A group of service users from Volunteer Now’s Befriending, Shopping and Driving scheme enjoyed an afternoon of chat and music on Thursday 18 November at the Afternoon Tea Party, held in the Skainos Centre in East Belfast.
Entertainment included an old time sing along featuring songs from yesteryear so guests could enjoy the nostalgia and reconnect with old memories. Attendees were also treated to a special visit by Lord Mayor Kate Nicholl who participated in the event.
Speaking at the event, Lord Mayor Councillor Kate Nicholl said: “There has been so much uncertainty throughout this past 18 months especially for older people across the city, who have endured a lot of isolation and loneliness. With that in mind, it is so fantastic to be here today to see the selfless work being done by the Volunteer befrienders who are reconnecting communities and people with the afternoon tea events and putting a smile back on older people’s faces! I was also delighted to take part and meet with the local community today and I would encourage anyone who was thinking of volunteering to go ahead and do it- it is such a rewarding way to give back to a charity that may be struggling, especially as we look ahead to Christmas.”
Organised by Volunteer Now and funded by Belfast Health & Social Care Trust, the afternoon tea series forms part of the charity’s Befriending Scheme, which operates across the Belfast Trust area and is delivered by Volunteer Now’s Community Projects Team.
The project is also supported locally by Diageo as part of the company’s ongoing charity partnership with Volunteer Now, fundraising to support community initiatives.
With the aim of rolling out the afternoon tea series on a monthly basis, Volunteer Now hopes to reach lots of vulnerable older people across Belfast city and the surrounding area over the winter period.
Denise Hayward, Volunteer Now Chief Executive Officer said: “The Volunteer Now Afternoon Tea Party is a great way to engage with our service users or those who have been referred to one of our support services. Most are vulnerable older people who rely on us for essential services such as providing friendship through befriending, providing driving assistance to medical appointments and helping to shop for basic food supplies.
“The events bring older people together at a time in their lives when their social circles are diminishing with the aim of tackling loneliness and isolation by organising social groups with volunteers. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to meet, have a cup of tea and something to eat and to reconnect socially. Over lockdown, we worked hard to deliver ‘hugs in a box’ to our older clients which included activity packs and treats to help keep them stimulated, engaged and also to give them a lift during a difficult time. It’s great to now be able to welcome everyone back to in-person events and reconnect as a group. It just goes to show that you’re never too old to make friends and enjoy a good day out.”
Led by a team of dedicated volunteers, the Afternoon Tea Party series is the latest initiative by Volunteer Now to connect communities.
Volunteer Karen Hamilton said: “I’ve been volunteering with Volunteer Now for over three years providing befriending support to people who have been referred to the scheme because they are feeling isolated or lonely. The pandemic has been particularly difficult for the older people in our community. Befriending is very rewarding and I look forward to the conversations I have with the lady I visit. If spending an hour or two each week befriending can help lift someone’s mood and make them feel less isolated and lonely, then I am happy to help.”