The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, appeared on the Chris Evans BBC Radio 2 programme on Tuesday 17 September, giving his ‘Pause for Thought’ where he spoke about his experience at a ‘Contact the Elderly’ tea party within St Monica’s Parish in Westminster’s Palmers Green parish on Sunday 15th September.
“On Sunday afternoon I was at the most delightful tea party. The hosts were three generations of a young family. The guests were a small number of very elderly people who were brought to the party by volunteer drivers, all under the guidance of a 19 year old coordinator. The young children romped around. Tea, sandwiches and cakes abound. The chatter was endless and the warmth and joy almost tangible. When it came to 5 o’clock, the guests were helped up and on their way home, ready to face long and lonely days until the next time they met. Indeed, one lady said to me that this monthly tea party was the only time she got out of her house. ‘You’ve no idea what it’s like’, she said. She looked forward to the party immensely.
This all took place in a leafy north London suburb, not the first place we might think of in terms of isolation. But this kind of poverty – poverty of relationships – knows no economic boundaries. It’s a sad and pressing problem. I was there to see for myself a growing cooperation between our Catholic parishes and a national charity which promotes contact with the elderly. This simple act of generosity is rich in its rewards. There are hundreds of similar groups across the country. The elderly love it, saying that it not only breaks the dreadful burden of isolation but recreates a pattern of friendship in their lives.
The volunteers, host families and drivers all speak of their joy and satisfaction at the contribution they make. It’s winners all round. This is a practical expression of our Christian faith and it is loving work, recreating a sense of community, centred around the family home. In fact that is the crucial point: the meetings do not take place in a community centre or church hall. They take place in a family home and this is an eloquent and powerful expression of welcome and inclusion for the guests. Here is genuine friendship. Volunteers do a great job. They know the joy of giving and it’s so much better than simply looking after number one.”
This project of Caritas Diocese of Westminster addresses the plight of the elderly and isolated in our communities. To find a group in your area and for more information about Contact the Elderly please click on this link.
There are also a small but growing number of parish based Family Groups across England and Wales. Family Groups meet regularly for a variety of events and activities, often in each others homes. The groups seek to build a genuine parish family which offers friendship and support to everyone in the community irrespective of age or personal circumstances. Family Groups have been established in the dioceses of Cardiff, East Anglia, Liverpool, Nottingham, Salford, Shrewsbury and Westminster. For more information please contact Hannah.Moruzzi@cbcew.org.uk