Volunteers are rallying support for a trailblazing initiative which brings together elderly people who live on their own and are starved of company.
Contact the Elderly has launched its first group in Chesterfield, enabling senior citizens to meet once a month for afternoon tea.
They are picked up and taken to a volunteer’s home for a couple of hours of friendship and food.
Emma Ward, co-ordinator, said: “Loneliness is an illness. There is a huge amount of elderly people in Chesterfield and there is a massive demand for groups like this.”
Such is the demand that Emma has a waiting list of elderly people but cannot accommodate them unless more volunteers come forward. She said: “I need drivers and hosts and then I can create group number two.”
Guests at the Sunday afternoon tea parties range from 75 to 98 years, have little social life, limited family contact and rarely go out.
Widower Brian Knight didn’t step outside his house for two years after the death of his wife.
He suffers from arthritis, is deaf in one ear and has had a couple of falls so wears a personal alarm.
A worker at the alarm company suggested that getting out of the house would be good for him and told him about the tea parties.
These days Brian is the only man among a group of golden girls enjoying cameraderie and cakes. He said: “I would recommend it to anyone. I get picked up and my driver gets hold of my arm and takes me across to the house, just like my mother used to.
“You’re with people who are the same as you and about the same age - I get on with them all.”
Brian, 80,who was married for more than 50 years, lives alone in Barrow Hill. He is looked after by a niece and nephew who bring him meals.
At the age of 95, Betty Harrison lives on her own, still cooks and gets around with a walking stick.
She looks forward to the companionship which tea parties offer, saying: “They are a nice lot. I chat to them about this and that.”
“I’m just so lonely on my own. A neighbour will come and ask me if I want anything from the shops.”
Betty, who lives in Brimington, was widowed in 2010 after being married to Norman for 64 years.
A wireless operator with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, she has many a tale to tell.
She was in an air raid shelter in London when a doodlebug bomb made a direct hit on the hotel where she should have been sleeping that night.
“It was excessively loud,” said Betty. “Some of the girls were killed.”
Betty and Brian were among those attending a tea party at Christine Bishop’s home.
Her lounge was full of chatter and laughter as the guests caught up on the weeks since they last saw each other.
Christine, 73, who lives alone in Newbold, said: “It’s good meeting the older generation - they are so appreciative of coming out.
”They’ve got to know each other and they’ve got to know the drivers so they are quite open and chatty.”
Widowed three years ago, grandmother Christine is also a volunteer driver and transports guests from as far away as Inkersall to the tea parties.
She said: “We might be in the same position ourselves one day and appreciate being taken out for tea.”
Her fellow drivers include Jane Pigden, 76, of Brimington. Jane said: “I am out four days a week working, three days looking after a lady with Alzheimer’s and one day of the week cleaning. I’m always lost at weekends for things to do. My two grandsons are at an age where they go and do their own thing.”
“The elderly people have had such interesting lives and you learn so much from them.”
There are 12 tea party hosts in the Chesterfield group. Group co-ordinator Emma, 34, of Littlemoor, said: “My hosts are nice and easy-going and put on a lovely spread. It doesn’t have to be a massive spread as long as it has a cup of tea and something sweet.
“They don’t even have to have a table. We have sat in a lounge which makes it really cosy.
“The elderly people have a massive sense of humour and will tell you their life story. They tend to have a debate over age, who is the eldest and who is the fittest.”
The next tea party is on Sunday, January 15, at Glapwell. Anyone wishing to help Contact the Elderly by offering transport or hosting a tea party, can contact Emma on 01246 556528 or 07871914891 or email: Mollsmum21@hotmail.co.uk