Sunday 7th October – welcome to Autumn

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As I sit here writing this now, I’m reflecting back on how far we have come in such a short space of time. The club has grown so much that I am now looking into ways of funding a small salary for me, so I can dedicate more time to the club and really give it the support it deserves. Nothing confirmed yet but watch this space!

As we returned from a break in September, it was all hands on deck for our lunch on Sunday 7th October. Lunch this month was roast pork (and crackling) followed by apple sponge, and it couldn’t have gone down better! Our poor oven is being asked to work harder than it’s ever done before so we had to chuck a few things, but we were told the sponge was the lightest they have tasted! Panic over.

As we continue to grow in numbers, the amount of food, refreshments and volunteers has had to increase too. I don’t think I will ever get used to the amount of people that have come forward each month and offered their precious time and for very little in return. My aim has always been to create an atmosphere that volunteers want to return to, because without them there would be no club. As I look around, I’m very aware our volunteers are sweating, tired and stressed – why would they want to come back! They do though, and I’m forever grateful. They always know more than me – how tables are laid, who sits where, how we arrange or monitor things, what system works best. The club has become so much about our volunteers both in and out of the kitchen. Together as a team, we are creating a warm and safe environment for just over 70 people, who ordinarily would spend the day at home alone, after having spent the whole week alone too. I’m so proud of that, and I feel so honoured to witness the friendships that are developing. The hall is never quiet. People who have never met are coming together over lunch, and breaking that dreadful wall of silence they hear too often at home.

Talking of volunteers, I’m delighted to tell you that our youngest volunteer Tallulah was awarded a British Citizen Youth Award this week, for her volunteering work at The Welbeloved Club. Tallulah is 11 years old and has recently started at the Bishop’s Stortford College. Her timetable is now 8am-5pm six days a week, so any spare time she has now is very precious. However, her commitment to The Welbeloved Club has never changed and I’m told she even wants to do more! She was presented with her medal from Diversity’s Ashley Banjo, who gave a moving speech about Tallulah and her support for the lunch club. We are so grateful for your support Tallulah, and are so proud to see how far you have come since your first club. Congratulations!

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A huge thank you to one of our volunteers Paul Brown who, without telling ANYBODY, paid for our meat this month. We are proud to be supporting our local Butcher (Stephens at Snowley) who always give us a good deal. Still though, our meat is one of our main expenses each month, so it was a huge surprise to hear it had already been paid for. Paul saved us just over £67, which means we have that money to spend on Armistice celebrations this month!

We also have to say a big thank you to Mandeville Primary School in Sawbridgeworth, who chose us as their charity/community group to support through their Harvest festival. I was absolutely blown away by the quantity of food they gave us, and so nicely packaged! The food has been divided up into food we will use for our lunches, food we can make up a hamper with for a raffle prize, and food we can donate to our local food bank. I’m happy to say the children will be coming to visit our club for our December lunch to sing some carols to our guests!

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When I get the time, it’s important I continue to look for different grants to apply for to keep us going. The small charge we obtain from guests covers our costs month to month, but it leaves us no money for the added extras like replacement of equipment, entertainment, decorations for themed months and much more. After a lengthy application, I was delighted to hear from the Hertfordshire Community Foundation to say they were awarding us £1000 for ongoing costs. This money will go such a long way in securing our future for 2019, and relaxes me somewhat as I plan for the future. It’s never been more important to secure the funding as I now see what a lifeline the club is for so many people. I’m very committed to ensuring our lunches remain at the highest standard we have set from the very beginning, and to continue accepting registration forms.

Our next lunch will see us celebrating Armistice, with local singer Diane Moore-Cowell coming to sing her ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ set. Flags at the ready! See you on the Sunday 4th November.

Sunday 26th August – a bank holiday feast

Sunday 26thAugust saw us serve our second lunch at the new venue, and what a difference a bit of forward planning (and experience) makes! Last month was understandably a bit frantic – new venue, new equipment, new everything. This time round though, the mood and environment was positively calmer and more organised thanks to our fab team.

I have to say, I personally felt it was the calmest we had been. A few of us noted it could be the weather (it was pouring down!) and I agreed to a degree, but I think we genuinely were more organised and knew what needed to be done. We are all getting into a routine now, and as well as learning more about the guests, we are learning more about how to pull off such a huge task efficiently and promptly.

The club continues to grow and grow in numbers, and I really feel we are starting to reach the ones most in need of company. Thank you to our friends at The Bishop’s Stortford Independent, The Flyer and local businesses displaying flyers, I’m getting calls each month of new people wanting to come and have lunch with us, which is great. It’s lovely for me as on the rare times I actually get to chat on the phone with them (messages are mainly left for me!), I get to have an informal chat with them first and learn all about them and ease any concerns they have about joining. I’m welcoming more and more people who are literally writing ‘no-one’ in their next of kin boxes. They now have us to call their friends, and suddenly their world is just that bit bigger.

Lunch this month was roast chicken with stuffing, potatoes and veg, followed by homemade jam roly poly! Reaping the benefits as a volunteer certainly sat well with me this month as this is my absolute favourite. Top marks to my Godmother Annabel who was on custard duties – ten or so pints of custard doesn’t seem to phase you as much as it did back in February but be warned people, don’t distract her while she’s counting!

In the background, the club continues to be embraced by people far and wide. We have had a number of funding successes with grants from Hertfordshire Community Foundation, Herts County Council, and fingers crossed the Postcode Lottery. As some of you may have seen too, The Bishop’s Stortford Bowls Club fundraised and divided their total figure between 3 very worthy causes – The Welbeloved Club being one. Raffle prizes continue to flood in, kind messages and cards of support, freebies in many forms and just a general sense of endorsement and recognition. Mandeville Primary School in Sawbridgeworth have selected The Welbeloved Club for their harvest festival collection, and are coming along to our December lunch to sing us some carols!

I drove through Bishop’s Stortford town the other afternoon, and I saw two ladies who attend The Welbeloved Club, together! Neither knew each other before joining and now here they are, wandering around the town together. It may not seem much, but this is exactly what is supposed to happen. We run only once a month, so there really is no need to wait a whole month to see your new friends. These two lovely ladies are proof what we are promoting truly does work! What’s more, it’s proof instilling just a little confidence and reassurance that you’re never too old to make new friends works a charm if you allow it to.

To date, we have 95 people on our books. It’s a phenomenal amount, and a number that just keeps growing. We can only do what we can do, but it’s further proof that something needs to change. This is just across two small towns – imagine how many more people are out there in need of some companionship. Please reach out to someone you know who may need a friend. It could be a neighbour, a friend of a friend, or simply someone you see every week in your local coffee shop. Say hello! Offer them an ear. Bake them cake, take them for lunch, drink tea. Or, give them a lift to The Welbeloved Club.

See you in October!

The Bishop’s Stortford Talking Newspaper

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I had no idea this existed! And I’m told it’s not just in Bishop’s Stortford – many are running a similar concept across the country.

Richard Barnett got in touch with me a while ago, and asked if he could interview me for the newspaper, all about The Welbeloved Club. I felt very honoured to have been asked so of course I said yes!

I headed over to Herts and Essex hospital where there happens to be a radio studio (who knew?!) so I felt very special. I was also given the chance to talk about my current place of work, St Elizabeth’s Centre in Much Hadham! They too do fantastic work to support people of all ages with epilepsy and other complex conditions.

The newspaper itself is a fantastic initiative that enables people who are visually impaired or just struggle to read a paper in it’s physical form to keep up to date with the local news. It was a no brainer to say yes to Richard!

You can listen to my interview below:

Sunday 5th August – our move into expansion…

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For those of you that have been following The Welbeloved Club, you will know that right from the off, our demand has been phenomenal. First and foremost, it is the biggest compliment anyone could pay us, that they love coming to have lunch with us so much that we had to plan for expansion quite quickly. All of the stress linked to expanding is softened greatly by this level of support.

I warn you now – this blog post is mainly going to be full of thanks and praise to lots of people but please do read it…it’s a shining example of the local community coming together.

The need for expansion is just one piece of the puzzle. Facilitating this huge task (and it really is a huge task) is another ball game. It has meant we have been calling on all sorts of people for help and support, shamelessly asking for donations or second-hand equipment, marketing exposure, volunteers, advice and so on. You name it, we’ve asked for it! So, it’s only right we firstly thank the following people and local businesses for their incredible support in making this happen:

Peter and Trish at Sawbridgeworth Memorial Hall – I approached them a few months ago about potentially using their hall as a new venue for our lunches and the support we have had since has been more than we could ever have hoped for. They made a huge investment in new equipment for us, both crockery-based items and the servicing of the oven, a new extractor fan and installing a dishwasher. They continue to be on hand any time of day and came in on Sunday to support us. No problem has been too big or too small, thank you. A huge thank you also to Debbie at The Hailey Centre, who let us borrow the huge pots and pans whilst we sort our own.

All of the support from local businesses – Stephen Butchers, Bishop’s Stortford Independent, Nockolds Solicitors, Nevilles UK, Buzz Catering, Bishop’s Stortford Bowls Club…the list goes on! You have all played a huge part in our success, especially our expansion. Fundraising, discounts, exposure, donations, you’ve done it all and with no questions asked.

Jean Palfreman – you absolute star! For many, to never hear the term GDPR again would be too soon. We have a lot of sensitive data, and Jean (who works full time anyway) revised all of our documents, policies and procedures to ensure we were GDPR compliant. It’s something that could have shut us down so I’m so grateful for your expertise on this.

Our team of volunteers! Wow, what a team you are. I mention you every time I write a blog, but it’s important I tell you how much you contribute to the success of this project. I planned and planned and planned for Sunday, but there was no way of me actually pulling it off without you all. We had more to do this month, and not just because we were feeding more people. We had setting up and clearing away to do, packing and unpacking boxes, and mainly – using our imagination for a lot of things! Teething problems were expected but there wasn’t anything you guys weren’t prepared to do. To those of you who do our laundry, driving, shopping…gahhh where does the list end?? I can’t say any more than THANK YOU. We’ve had a few missing the past few months as we come into holiday season but I can’t wait to have you all back!

And my Mum! Mum I know you are probably going to cry reading this but it doesn’t take much these days! Mum (with a team of sweaty, amazing volunteers) made a two course HOT meal for just over 70 people on Sunday. Not only this, but she took charge of basically ordering everything we were going to need and worked tirelessly throughout the month to make sure we were as ready as we could be. Other than signing up the newbies, I barely did a thing (I did pick the chicken up, to be fair)! I put a solid 10-hour shift in the day before, but all credit goes to Mum. Get this though, half way through she had a bit of a moment, and felt she was ‘letting people down’, and not in control of the situation. Mum, I hope you realise this club would be absolutely nothing without you. My ‘idea’ was just that, an idea. Our guests come for food and my god, do they get it. Thank you for recognising and supporting what I’m trying to do.

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Right, now for some stats. Very briefly, to pull this off we spent in the region of £700-800. That’s not including the kind support we have received from outside parties. Thanks to all of you, we’ve been able to keep at a steady flow and managed to keep enough in the bank to purchase everything we’ve needed.

We served over 70 meals on Sunday, to both guests and volunteers. Imagine the atmosphere in that room! We’ve all come together for one reason – being together is better than being alone.

Now, I can’t leave without talking about our wonderful guests. Oh how wonderful they are! Every time one of us came back to the kitchen, we had a conversation to repeat. I think we would all agree, the best thing about getting to a certain age is the lack of ‘filter’, and the decreasing worry of being ‘careful what you say’. I want to share some of our recent success stories as this is ultimately the most important part of The Welbeloved Club, and what our whole constitution is based around.

We have two ladies who joined a few months ago. They both live alone, they are both lonely and both find Sundays particularly difficult. These two ladies sat next to each other the month before last and got chatting almost instantly. Jump forward a few months, I’m told they not only exchanged numbers, but they’ve been for lunch with each other TWICE! Côte in Stortford I believe was one ‘date’. I mean, wow. I had always hoped this sort of thing would happen but to actually hear it is such an incredible feeling.

The second story I wanted to share with you was about a new lady we had join us for lunch this month. I spoke to her daughter a few weeks before and arranged a welcome pack to go out. I then spoke to the lady herself a few days later as she was feeling very anxious about coming. She explained to me that she has come to terms with the fact she is lonely, but at 84 she feels very ‘out of touch’ with how to make new friends. The day arrived and I was pleased to see she decided to come regardless of her anxieties. From the off I could see she was very nervous, with her asking if it would be ok to leave early if it wasn’t for her. I introduced her to a table and within an hour (I kid you not), she approached me and asked me to phone her daughter to cancel her lift. “Why?” I asked. “I’ve made friends with the lady sitting next to me and she is now going to take me home instead.” I could have cried right there on the spot. My work here is done!

It’s a longer blog than normal this month, but one full of successes, thanks and admiration that could not have been made any smaller! Our next lunch falls over the Bank Holiday weekend – Sunday 26thAugust. We have had to move our September lunch, so we now get a month off! Then service is resumed as normal in October.

Thank you all for reading, see you in a few weeks!

http://www.thewelbelovedclub.com

Sunday 1st July…our last at 48!

Cor, we just love you lot so much that we now want to cater for more of you! As I’ve said in previous posts, the demand for The Welbeloved Club has been phenomenal and as a result, Sunday 1stJuly was our last lunch at The Hailey Centre. We want to thank the Centre for all of their help and guidance in getting our club off the ground, and for advertising for us! Many of our clients also attend The Hailey Centre so it’s been a wonderful example of two organisations working together for the same goal.

So now, we move to Sawbridgeworth Memorial Hall where we can cater for up to 100 guests rather than 48. A huge step up but absolutely achievable thanks to the hospitality and generosity of local businesses and charities, especially our new venue. They have so very kindly offered to support us in purchasing new equipment and have been on hand every day to support us through this transition. I work full-time, and run The Welbeloved Club completely voluntarily, so the offers of help in every form have meant the world. We have people washing and ironing, sorting our dreaded GDPR policies, doing our accounts, giving us money and so much more! Thank you to all of you, you know who you are.

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This month was supposed to be a Wimbledon theme, but I think the memo got lost especially for me! However, given the weather and how warm it was for our guests, we felt it was only appropriate to provide a lighter (but just as tasty!) lunch consisting of homemade egg and bacon quiche with potatoes and salad, with I guess a ‘Wimbledon’ pudding in the form of strawberries, meringue and cream. Safe to say it was warmly received with hardly any coming back again!

I always talk of a ‘warm’ environment, but never quite so literally! I think it’s fair to say the hall was very toasty despite our best efforts to keep it cool, so you can imagine working in this heat and the kitchen wasn’t the most pleasant experience. However, the volunteers worked their bums off yet again to deliver such fantastic service. The washing up still got done, the food and drinks were still served and cleared away and nobody complained at all. In fact, it was probably me moaning the most about how sweaty it was for us all!

When our guests leave, we get the standard ‘it was very nice’ and ‘it was very tasty’ and, ‘I won’t eat for a week!’, but it’s the comments we get and the cards we receive in the following days that mean the most. Good food can only go so far, but for me it appears the atmosphere we are creating is what brings people back every time. It’s the attention to detail that people notice, and above all it’s the reassurance that despite your age and what has led you to this point in your life, you are not alone. We love spending time with you, and hope that by spending your Sunday with us, it makes a lonely weekend just a bit more bearable.

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I’m told that guests are swapping numbers with each other and even giving each other a lift there and back. Could we have hoped for better by the way??? They’ve made friends, because of us. My job here is done! Almost. We also have guests arriving who, on their first go were full of apprehension and clinging onto their adult children, as if arriving for their first day at nursery. Jump forward a few months, they barely share a kiss goodbye with them! They are off on their mission to find their favourite seat and the rest is history. Joking aside, that actually makes me quite emotional. We have facilitated something that at 80 odd years old, you would never have tried. You resign yourself to old age and consider yourself ‘too old’ to try something new. We’ve helped you break down those barriers and are living proof it’s never too old to make some friends.

Come and join us on the 5thAugust at our brand new venue, and bring all of your family and friends!

Sunday 3rd June – lots of new faces!

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I knew the day would come where I would have to face the inevitable discomfort of having to turn people away! I’m absolutely thrilled the word is spreading and our club is proving so popular, but it’s never easy to have the conversation with those that miss out – hopefully that is all about to change!

It’s with great pride and excitement that I’m able to tell you that on 5thAugust 2018, we will be hosting our lunch in a bigger venue, the Sawbridgeworth Memorial Hall! The committee have been so gracious in allowing us to use the space, at a discounted rate while we get ourselves established. I never thought back in February that by June, we would be needing to expand due to demand. What a wonderful thought that so many are enjoying the escape from four walls and wanting to spend time with us on a Sunday. I’m a terrible one for taking praise where due and all that, but I genuinely do not ‘give to receive’. We all really enjoy hosting lunch for our guests, and we all feel it is absolutely the right thing to be doing. Don’t get me wrong, at the time of writing this I have spent my whole Saturday afternoon doing admin for The Welbeloved Club, but the good always outweighs the bad. It is all so worth it!

Our lunch this month was a first for me too – who knew parsley sauce was so damn tasty?! Guests enjoyed Gammon followed by chocolate sponge and custard! Here is why Mum is so talented…she forgot the receipe for the pudding and still rustled up a delicious sponge for 60 odd people. Who else could do that? I’m so lucky to have her. Genuinely, good atmosphere and company only goes so far – it’s the food they all come back for and there’s a reason why.

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I was lucky enough to be joined for a short time by Vernon Brown of Pitman Training in Bishop’s Stortford. A while ago, Vernon got in touch with me to explain that Pitman Training run community awards in the area and he thought The Welbeloved Club was something that should be recognised. Jump forward a few months and here I am with a shiny award and a £500 voucher to spend on any Pitman Training course. Thank you! Vernon made a brief thoughtful speech to our guests, with many taking a trip down memory lane reflecting on the Pitman Training courses they once took many moons ago. Vernon was very gracious in his words to and about me and the club but not without me insisting it is a team effort! I do the ‘back room’ work but on the day, I barely lift a finger.

Our youngest volunteer Tallulah has come on leaps and bounds. Her first lunch she took small steps by helping me set up tables and count money, but I know her mum would agree she was somewhat shy and apprehensive about chatting with guests. As any 10-year-old would be! A few months later and I simply cannot pull her away! Not only does she help me set up, she also arranges our beautiful flower arrangements every month, sells raffle tickets, collects money, serves dinner and has a right good old natter with the oldies! It’s wonderful to see her confidence grow, and just proves the research going on right now into the benefits of older people spending time with younger children is something worth listening to. They absolutely adore her, and I feel they really appreciate her giving up her precious home work/play time to spend the day with them. Thank you, Tallulah and all of our volunteers who give up their valuable down time to enable me to pull this off! Especially this month, where hay fever certainly got the better of me and I was no use to anyone!

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It’s worth mentioning that our lovely Charles took one of Tallulah’s flower arrangements home to put next to a photo of his wife, Eileen, who he lost nearly two years ago.

I’m also really glad the word is getting out into Bishop’s Stortford, my hometown! I’m looking into now hiring a bus from the council to provide the transport so more people can join us. The rate is incredibly reasonable, so I’m hoping this is another service we can afford to provide.

I’m now in the process of applying for a grant from East Herts council in order to pull off a special Armistice celebration for our November lunch. God, there won’t be a dry eye in the house! I’m hoping the celebration will include entertainment, decorations and themed gifts along with the usual costs of venue hire and food/drink. It’s a lovely idea to offer grants for this sort of occasion so fingers crossed for approval.

With the news we are expanding, now is the time to spread our message far and wide! We need to push for new members so please, if you know anyone or even a neighbour or friend who may like to join us, get them to get in touch or visit our website. Similarly, with expansion comes more expenditure. We are still fundraising, and if we can find time to host a fundraiser we certainly will do! All details of everything can be found on our website.

The 1stof July will, all going to plan, be our last lunch at The Hailey Centre. I’ve no idea what I’m getting myself into (I work full time!), but I’m confident I can pull this off with the incredible support I have around me and the kind words our guests say every month. I’m constantly told we are making a difference to their lives and that is ultimately the biggest compliment anyone can ever pay me.

See you on the 1stJuly, for Wimbledon celebrations!

Sunday 29th April – 4 lunches in!

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So here we are, 4 lunches in and the club is still going from strength to strength. Currently, we have new members joining every month and they just keep coming! All of our new members this month live in Bishop’s Stortford so the word is well and truly spreading. Excellent news! This means that for now, we are on the hunt for more volunteer drivers so please do get in touch if you want to help out.

When we first started, it took a while for me to really reach my intended audience. Don’t get me wrong, everyone who attends does live alone and many go days without speaking or seeing anybody. However, reaching those who are truly isolated was always going to be a tricky task. However, thanks to local businesses and word of mouth, I’m happy to report we have more people signing up who really need it the most. Here I need to thank everyone who took a poster from me right from the start. Local dentists, hairdressers, small business owners, church organisations and local press – I wouldn’t have reached these people if it weren’t for you. Honestly, there is no feeling quite like it when you see new people arrive for the first time full of worry and apprehension, who then at the end, ask to rebook. Success!

This was the first month where we were charging guests a small fee to cover the costs of the meal. Again, I’m so grateful to all the small grants and donations we received over the course of 3 months, which enabled us to provide a lunch for free. More than that, we had enough money to treat guests to added extras, enough money to put on a raffle (although we do get some fabulous donated prizes!) and most importantly, we are able to give guests choice. This month, we had enough to give everyone a glass of wine! This is a new feature and unsurprisingly, went down VERY well. No casualties, just very ‘merry’ customers!

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On the topic of money, we were really privileged to welcome Tracy Whitfield from Waitrose Bishop’s Stortford, who came to present a cheque to us for winning the most tokens back in their January community fund. We were presented with a cheque for £447, a record I’m told! Thank you to all of the shoppers at Waitrose who gave us your token – this money will certainly keep us going!

I was also very happy to present one of our guests Cynthia with a bunch of flowers, to say thank you for her recent donation. Cynthia recently held an 80thbirthday party, and rather than gifts she asked for donations for The Welbeloved Club. In total, Cynthia handed over a cheque for £370! A wonderful sentiment very graciously received. I would also like to thank Bishop’s Stortford Wanderers who, not long after Cynthia, gave me a cheque for £274! They chose us as their charity at their recent cup final. I was overwhelmed with the gesture so a huge thanks to all of you.

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Recently, thanks to the generosity of others, The Welbeloved Club has been able to support a campaign to enable one of our guests to travel to Wales for her brother’s funeral. This lovely lady is certainly one of our more isolated guests, with no family to call on in times of need. I remember when I first visited her at home to help her complete her form and it really brought home to me why I was starting this project. Her house was dark, the TV on but not really watched. This lady was clearly very isolated and I got the feeling I had been the first person she had seen in days. She opened the door immediately like she had been waiting there the entire time, and when she gets collected for club she is nearly always ready an hour in advance. Anyway, The Welbeloved Club was able to donate half of Cynthia’s donation to getting her to Wales and after a successful fundraising campaign; very kind strangers raised the full amount. I’m told she was absolutely overwhelmed, as were her distant relatives in Wales. Thank you everyone!

It takes a lot of hard work and dedication from all involved to keep this project going. However, aside from all of that, I just want to talk about our guests. They are truly wonderful, all unique and quirky in their own ways. They have the most interesting stories to tell, and are so appreciative of absolutely everything that comes their way. We have war Veterans, guests who have lost family and friends, guests who have moved into the area and guests who just, through no fault of their own, find themselves spending days if not weeks without seeing a soul. Every single one of them though arrives with a smile (and sometimes cake – I’m looking at you David) and a story they just have to tell. This month, we had two guests arrive asking after a volunteer, one had some patchwork to show her and another had grown her a cactus! As the months pass, it’s beginning to feel more and more like a community and a big family. I’ve been so lucky with support, with both my godmothers coming this month to help out! Thank you second and third mummies.

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I personally am starting to learn names, stories, backgrounds and so much more. Believe me, it absolutely breaks you every time when you’re told it’s been however long since they last had a conversation or spent time in the company of someone who actually wants to be there. How is that so? Why are these people left to be forgotten after giving so much of themselves to society and this country? I refuse to accept nothing can be done when someone tells you the last person they spoke to was the person on the checkout, 3 days ago. I do not and will never accept that – our guests are worth so much more than that.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this month a success, roll on 3rdJune!