For 20 years, Tom and Barbara Hoyles have run The Salvation Army’s Friendship Club in Romford. The club has always been well-supported, with about 150 people meeting up every Thursday to enjoy a variety of social activities.
The club is often the only opportunity for some of the elderly members get out of the house to assuage their loneliness and enjoy the company of others. Covid-19 threatened to put a stop to this as the first round of restrictions kicked in, but the Hoyles refused to be defeated and turned to telephones to keep the group alive and their members connected.
Christmas can be difficult
Despite all the good cheer, Christmas is a notoriously difficult time for the elderly and others who live alone. The Friendship Club usually helps them weather this period with carolling, and playing music and collecting outside popular stores. Again, as Covid has shut the door on these activities, the Hoyles will continue to reach out to at-risk people through their telephone ring around.
Commenting on their creative solution, Tom Hoyle said, “We have changed how we do things, but we have still kept our group alive and connected by phoning around each other, we’ve been doing this since we had to stop meeting back in the spring. We will certainly continue this over Christmas and will send each other Christmas cards. Our weekly chats have kept us talking and communicating, ready for when we all hope to return together…whenever that may be!”
He added, “Our mission has always been to combat loneliness with or without coronavirus. The effects of loneliness are real and serious. Most of our number are ladies who may have lost their partners and need to find company and activities. We will never turn anyone away who needs a safe place to find friendship.”
The movement started in April when the Hoyles asked 10 Friendship Club members to each phone another 10 people. Momentum grew and soon people who hadn’t got to know one another at the club started brand new friendships.
Take 83-year-old Maureen, for example, she said, “I started coming to The Salvation Army friendship club about six months after my husband died. I’ve been able to meet up with some members in small groups, at local cafes. By talking to other members on the phone, I have got to know more people”.
Phylis, another happy club member, said, “It means a lot, to find out what other people have been up to. You can phone a person every day from the group and talk which is great.”
There is no doubt the year has taken its toll. Fifteen club members have passed away and some club members have lost their children, many of these to the virus. Usually, the club has a Christmas carol service dedicated to the people who passed away during the year. This year will be different.
Hoyle said, “Every year we have a club Christmas carol service in order to specially remember those we’ve lost. We don’t expect to be able to hold this service again this year, but all of us continue to remember those we’ve lost, even if we can’t come together to do it.”