Sunday 1st March – an unexpected last

Our March lunch feels like a distant memory now. At the time, we had only small concerns over the COVID-19 situation but none of us could have predicted what would unfold in the coming weeks. If we had known it would be the last time we would see our friends for at least three months, we would have held them close (we were still allowed to!) and told them everything would be alright. That we would be here for them albeit from a distance to get them through. That we would miss them all dearly, but health has to come first.

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Fast forward just a month, and we are living in a totally different world. Today would have been our April lunch and not only are we not allowed to get together in a big group, we aren’t allowed to even leave the house unless absolutely necessary. All of our sudden even our more active members have been forced into isolation and the world around them has shrunk to a size they could have never imagined. To say we are sad is an understatement. I know our volunteers share the same overriding concern – are months of isolation potentially more dangerous than the actual virus? What should we do? What CAN we do?

As I have mentioned in previous posts, after two and a half years of hosting lunches, we feel an enormous sense of responsibility to do right by our members. To protect them, to nurture them, to make them happy on sad days and to be that force behind battling their loneliness. It’s a big ask, but one we accept without question and one we take incredibly seriously. The current situation might stop us meeting in person, but it means we’ve just had to be a bit resourceful and ask for help. So that’s what we’ve done.

We’ve teamed up with the incredible ‘Operation Community’ – a new project based in Bishop’s Stortford that is supporting those most in need during this difficult time. Services include befriending, shopping and delivery services and a hot meal service for those unable or unlikely to cook for themselves. We are very proud to part of it, and are working really hard to make sure as many of our members benefit from the service as possible. I personally am helping to promote the service via social media, while mum is helping on the shopping helpline. We are both also of course still on the end of the phone to help anyone who needs it because that’s all we can do.

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On top of this, we are working with children and their families across the area to match ‘pen pals’ across the generations. I’ve absolutely loved reading the letters from the children, and have done my best to match them up with who I think would be the perfect friend. It’s an amazing thing we have created and when this is all over, I hope they’ve made friends for life. When you’re feeling lonely, there is no better feeling than a new friend.

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I must say a huge thank you again to our local paper the Bishop’s Stortford Independent who not only helped us promote our pen pal scheme, but they’ve also gone above and beyond despite trying to survive as a small business themselves. They appealed to their loyal readers to help raise enough money to pay for our most lonely members to receive the paper every week for the next three months. To no surprise at all they managed it within a day, and now many of our members are going to enjoy a weekly roundup of their local news. It may not seem much, but I believe this will play a vital role in ensuring they stay connected to the outside world and know support is out there. It’s also supporting our amazing local paper (which we are so lucky to have) so it’s win win.

So as you can see, we’re doing all we can to support our members while we all adapt to this strange world. We never feel like it’s enough – I know I personally feel like I should be doing more. If there is anything I have learnt about loneliness, it’s the fact those suffering with it are the ones less likely to reach out. So, I know I should be making more phone calls. I know I should be reaching out and offering an ear to our members that really need it – now more than ever. But, I hope whatever I am doing currently is going some way to help as many as possible. I don’t know when we will be back, I don’t know if this is about to get a hell of a lot worse before it gets better. But I know we’ll be here for anyone who needs it.

Despite our hiatus, we still have direction for the club. It may be on hold, but just before social gatherings were banned, we managed to get in our first Trustee meeting for the club. It was a really positive meeting, with lots to think about and lots of direction. There is so much potential for us and I’m so lucky and thankful to have such an amazing, experienced team behind me. I’m really excited about that and can’t wait to tell you all more in the coming months.

I’m nearly done, but before I go I wanted to pay tribute to a really wonderful lady who we lost just a few days ago. Our vibrant, gorgeous, naughty Spanish Queen, Monte.

Mum and I met Monte probably nearly 10 years ago now. Mum took up a job cooking at The Hailey Centre In Sawbridgeworth, and quickly roped me in during School holidays and study breaks to volunteer. It was here I first met ‘the crew’ – Monte, Pam, Sheila, Anne, Jean, PJ, John, to name a few. Monte knew everything about me by the time I said hello, and took me under her wing like an adopted granddaughter. With her Spanish sass, Monte told me how wonderful my mum’s cooking was and how, if I didn’t show her appreciation at every occasion, there would be trouble. Straight away a special friendship established and we’ve never looked back.

Jump forward ten years, I launch The Welbeloved Club and I think Monte was probably my first recruit. Every month, there was no escaping her grip – she cuddled and cuddled and cuddled until she could not cuddle anymore. She asked all about my family and friends every month even though some she had never met. This didn’t matter to her though – they were my family so they therefore were hers. She took great delight in telling me how handsome my brother was, and when it came to recruiting a few of our young male volunteers, Monte would charm them with Spanish love songs and whip out that classic dazzling smile and the rest was history. New members and volunteers were in safe hands with her – I knew I could leave them with her and their experience of club would be made 100% brighter. She made people feel instantly at ease – a kindness she showered me with all that time ago.

Monte was tough. Nothing phased her and when she told us she was poorly, she made it clear this wasn’t her time and had every intention of living forever.

We’ll miss her. I’ll really really miss her. I’ve never known a heart so big belong to such a tiny little lady. She was always so kind and full of praise for me, and I hope she knew just how much that meant to me. I hope she knew how much we loved her because we really really did.

Sleep tight Monte. X

Monte

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