Sunday 1st April – Easter Sunday!

Happy Easter from everyone at The Welbeloved Club!

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When we realised our first Sunday lunch in April would in fact be Easter Sunday, we were torn as to whether or not to run. Many of our guests despite facing loneliness, do in fact have family who perhaps live just a bit further afield, or they live close by but lead very busy lives. Regardless, we thought there may be a chance we ‘wouldn’t be needed’ as families do tend to come together for occasions like Easter and Christmas.

On reflection however, it dawned on me that we also have a lot of guests who have nobody to call on to celebrate Easter with, with many leaving the next of kin box blank on their registration forms, or giving the name of a person who is of no relation but can be contacted for emergencies only.

We can’t have this!

So, we gave our own Easter Sunday up with pleasure in order to celebrate with many who would have otherwise spent the day alone. And what a lovely afternoon it turned out to be!

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Lunch was a hearty meal of roast lamb with potatoes and veg, followed by an oldie favourite – trifle! When I took bookings for this month, something tells me it was the lamb that sold it. Many told me they absolutely loved lamb but it would never be something they cook at home, especially just for one person. With this in mind, with delight we served just over 40 people this rare treat and received rave reviews. Our guests also enjoyed a small Easter egg each, followed by chocolate mints and a luxury raffle!

Every month we receive donations for our raffle and the prizes are so beautiful. This month, Reed Recruitment Specialist in Harlow kindly donated a luxury Easter egg as our top prize. Whenever I put a call out for a top prize, it never fails to amaze me the people and businesses that come forward only too happy to fulfil this request. A huge thank you to them and to everyone who continues to donate such lovely gifts. The raffle raises about £80 which generally pays for the meat we serve every month so we wouldn’t be without it!

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My friend Hayley came all the way from Longstanton in Cambridge to join us on Easter Sunday, and took some amazing photos of our guests and volunteers. Hayley and I had some success with a documentary we made back in 2014 called ‘Jack: Differently Abled’. We went on to make another documentary focusing on volunteer impact and we’ve stayed friends ever since. It has been nearly 3 years since I saw Hayley last but it was like no time had passed! With everyone being so busy on the day, we often forget to take pictures or really see the difference we are making at the club. Hayley’s photos really demonstrate the joy and happiness we are bringing to our guest’s lives so it’s been lovely to reflect on. Thank you Hayley for being a part of it.

A huge thank you to our volunteer Tallulah, who made 8 beautiful centre pieces for each of our tables. They brought so much life and colour into the room, and everyone commented on how gorgeous they were. At the end of the afternoon, the person with a birthday nearest to the 1st April took the flowers home as an extra gift.

We also had a brief talk from my sister Rachael, who works for Leicestershire Police in their fraud department. She helps vulnerable people to protect themselves from common scams and fraudulent activity so it was great to have her expertise with us yesterday. She answered a few questions from our guests and gave them a few points to be aware of and how to stay safe in your own home and online.

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Guests also enjoyed a song our youngest volunteer Jack played on his guitar. I believe this was the first time Jack had played to a large audience and it was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. Well done Jack!

I want to round off by saying another thank you to all of my volunteers. I can’t (and won’t) say thank you enough for everything you do, especially yesterday on Easter Sunday. We have drivers who pick up our guests from Bishop’s Stortford free of charge, volunteers in the kitchen preparing a two course meal for over 40 people, volunteers serving and clearing away and replenishing refreshments, volunteers washing and drying up, volunteers assisting with the raffle and volunteers offering to do our laundry for the month. We have so much support and help, it means I can relax (kind of!) and interact with our guests to really introduce myself and gain feedback from everyone. I knew what I wanted to achieve from this club and having so much help means I achieve above and beyond that every single month.

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This was our third lunch and everyone noted how much louder the hall had become as guests start to become more comfortable with each other. It warms my heart and it’s exactly what is meant to happen. For me too, I’m starting to get to know the guests and understand what has brought them to this point. Many have lost partners and friends over the years, have family far away or none at all, or poor health means they don’t manage to get out of the house on a regular basis.

One of our guests David told us a bit more about his life when he phoned to book. David was a chef in the Army for many years, and lost his wife a few years ago. David now lives on his own and says he ‘misses his wife everyday’. David was so kind and arrived yesterday with a homemade cake just for us. It’s absolutely delicious and I’m sorry to say David we now expect one every month!

I feel very content knowing there are over 40 older people that didn’t spend Easter alone yesterday. I hope you enjoyed yourselves as much as we did hosting you. Someone wrote online that my Great-Grandma Doris would be very proud of what we have achieved. I hope that’s true, and she’s at the forefront of my mind every month.

Happy Easter, see you on 29th April!

Sunday 4th March – our second lunch!

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Sunday 4th March – our second lunch!

With our launch firmly under our belts, it wasn’t long before our second scheduled lunch had arrived!

With our launch proving so successful, my phone was inundated with calls in the days that followed, with people both wanting to rebook and new people wanting to join! I couldn’t have hoped for a better response and above all, I’m just so pleased everyone enjoyed himself or herself so much that they felt they wanted to come back. It’s important to me that everyone felt safe and looked after, as attending something like this alone can be a very daunting experience. It can be a very difficult thing to admit that you’re lonely, and before long it can feel that asking for company is too big an ask, so you are best to just sit alone.

On behalf of The Welbeloved Club, your company is wanted and cherished, and we can’t wait to meet you.

With that said, there is no doubt you will be welcomed with open arms.

I had a lovely lady call me after the launch, who explained she had moved into the area having lived most of her life in Lincolnshire. She lost her husband last year and many of her friends, so she had moved to be closer to her daughter. This lovely lady expressed her wish to meet new people, as she was spending a lot of time on her own, in a very unfamiliar area. She signed up and was SO brave, arriving on her own not really knowing how she was going to feel or what to expect. Believe it or not, after introducing myself I really didn’t need to do anything else. Another guest took her under her wing, and introduced her to a group of other ladies and sat her at the top of the table. I’m pleased to report, this lady has rebooked for Easter. Fab!

Lunch was prepared and served up yet again by our amazing team of volunteers. The menu this month was roast chicken with potatoes and veg, with Mum’s homemade Bakewell tart for afters. Safe to say, not much came back! While I’m here, I have to say a huge thank you to my mum Gill for her support this month. I recently started a new job, so my time is now very limited to evenings and weekends. Mum really took charge this month, sorting food and booking people in without me needing to follow up. I founded this project but really couldn’t do it with her so much of the credit really should go to my super Mum.

We held a raffle as it was so popular last month, and continues to be. Thank you to everyone who is continuously donating prizes – they are all so posh and lovely! It all adds to the experience so my sincere thanks to everyone.

I must also say thank you to Jane Warwick and Jean Palfreman, who have this month taken the burden of washing from us! They have very kindly washed and ironed all of our tablecloths, napkins and tea towels. I know they both feel it is so little but to us it saves us so much time. Thank you to you both.

We had some new volunteers join us this month as well, which was great. I cannot tell you, my team work like clockwork every month. Everyone knows what needs to be done, where things go, what time things need to be served and cleared away. The team consists of friends, friends of friends, family, godparents, ‘god sisters’ and now new friends. Everyone is so quick to compliment and praise me for thinking of the idea but now, other than booking people in and buying the odd ingredient, I really do not do a lot! Volunteers do everything else. They make the club what it is and I really don’t think I could have imagined what it has become.

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Our next lunch is Sunday 1st April, Easter Sunday. I understand those that do have family close by use this occasion to celebrate together, but I wanted to continue with our lunch as there are many people that attend The Welbeloved Club who don’t have family to celebrate with. Other than Christmas, Easter is the only other annual event that closes the shops all day, fills pubs and restaurants with families and friends and empties houses of neighbours all going out for the day. It really doesn’t take much for someone to become isolated.

So, if you find yourself with no plans for Easter Sunday, please come and join us for roast lamb and trifle!

Jo x

Sunday 4th February 2018 – the launch!

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Our launch has been fast approaching, with much more preparation needed than I care to admit. However, I’m pleased to say it was a complete success!

Our day kicked off around 10.30am, with volunteers both in the hall and the kitchen working tirelessly to make it ready for 12pm. This included laying tables with various condiments and cutlery once volunteer Tallulah had so beautifully laid the tablecloths, peeling and chopping veg, filling milk and water jugs, sorting raffle prizes and leaving to collect those coming via our transport.

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We were so fortunate to have Ocado award us £100 in vouchers as a gesture of goodwill, thanks to volunteer Clare. We are truly so grateful. Just so you know how far it went, this paid for the potatoes, vegetables, milk, Yorkshire puddings, apples, biscuits, tea and coffee. When you are a not for profit organisation this generosity goes such a long way.

Come 12pm, it was all systems go. We welcomed 48 diners who would have otherwise spent their Sunday at home on their own. They were met with smiling faces and a warm welcome – something so important when attending something new.

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Guests enjoyed a roast beef dinner with all the trimmings, followed by apple crumble and custard. The meal was followed by tea and coffee with biscuits and a raffle. Everyone loves a raffle!

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As I’m sure everyone can imagine, the ‘clean up’ is always the worst part. It’s something you know is coming but put off thinking about due to the anxiety it brings. Are we going to lose anything? We had four filled boxes, what if something goes missing? What if something gets mixed up with something else? What if the volunteers need to leave, as they have already been so generous with their Sunday? I’m happy to report I had NOTHING to worry about.

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Let me just say our volunteers were absolutely incredible. I understand I should take the praise for organising and having the idea in the first place, but I do not lie when I say this is a team effort. I could not have pulled the afternoon off without them. What’s more, not once did I have to chase something or ask for something to be done. They were in fact always a step ahead of me! Furthermore, they stayed to help clear and wash up, despite not having a break themselves. Everything worked perfectly, just through a shared passion and drive to achieve the same goal. We all wanted our guests to have the best afternoon, and not have to worry about a thing. We wanted them to socialise and make friends, and not have to worry about the time or having to cook for themselves. We wanted them to forget about feeling lonely. We also wanted them to leave with very happy tummies!

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I know Mum will say the same thing about it being a team effort and it’s true, she couldn’t have cooked for 48 on her own. However, this is her menu and her passion for good food, especially for people in later life. Her love of homemade food made the meal taste all the better, and it wasn’t long before the compliments came flooding in as always. Her management of the kitchen meant everyone knew what he or she were doing, and it meant we were ready to serve on time. Thank you Mum for sharing this with me.

The feedback from our lovely guests was all positive. Many confirmed it would have been a day they ordinarily would spend at home alone, and some said they probably would have only had a sandwich as ‘nobody wants to cook a roast for one’. Some said they had spoken to people they had never met before, and it had really ‘brightened their Sunday’. I think everyone felt very overwhelmed with the amount of people willing to give up their Sunday in order to help them have a good afternoon.

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Ultimately, this day was all about the guests. We are facing a loneliness crisis and not enough important people are listening. I’m one person with a fantastic team behind me, but we can’t fix it all. We only have 48 seats to offer once a month and with it becoming very popular already, I fear I am fast becoming a victim of my own success. All I can promise is we will endeavour to give everyone a chance to attend, and will rotate members round if everyone falls into our priority. I ask for your patience and understanding during this time!

Thank you so much once again to our team of 17, you are all heroes and I owe you so much. Thank you for sharing this passion with me. Roll on Sunday 4th March!

 

Our 2017 so far…

As 2017 is coming to a close, I wanted to take this opportunity to update all of our loyal supporters on our progress so far, in our run up to launch in February 2018.

Well, what an exciting few months it has been. I first launched the crowdfunding page back in September, and the response I have had since has been more than I could ever have imagined. It has been truly phenomenal and I can’t thank you all enough.

Our update on funding – 

As many of you know, we exceeded our crowdfunding target of £1000 in less than a week. I could cry even now just thinking about that. Donations were coming in from quite literally, all over the country. We even had donations come in from Australia, but admittedly these were from Family Brits abroad! Nonetheless, whether it was because it was something someone out there had always wanted to start, or it connected with them on a personal level, something struck a cord. Whatever our passions and interests are in life, I think we are all in agreement that nobody should have the television as their main source of company. Nobody should be alone.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank The Bishop’s Stortford Independent, RB Hair, The Laughing Bishop’s Comedy Club and The Logistics Organisation for your incredible support. Whether it be in the form of money or promotion, The Welbeloved Club owes a lot of it’s success so far to you. Additionally, a huge thank you to Paddy Lennox for dedicating his last comedy show of 2017 to promoting the club, and allowing me to collect on the door. We raised £80, which pays for our venue for a month and a few added extras.

I put in three applications forms for various grants, and we heard a few days ago that one has been successful so far. A grant of £250 from Bishop’s Stortford Town Council will go a very long way in keeping us going. Thank you! Updates on the other two grants to follow – fingers crossed.

Goodwill from local support –

As many of you have seen we have beautiful, engaging posters and flyers to hand out. This is all thanks to our very kind friend Nick Murr at Juice Creative who not only offered to design them for us free of charge, he also covered the printing costs. We are talking thousands of prints here! We know Nick from many dog walks over the years, but this generosity is more than we could ever have hoped for. Thank you Nick.

We also (as of yesterday) have stunning embroidered polo shirts to give out to all of our volunteers! I always had a vision of looking as professional as possible, especially if we are providing transport and helping people get in and out of their homes. Fosters Schoolwear in Bishop’s Stortford offered us a discount on this order, again as a gesture of goodwill. I can’t wait to see everyone wearing them and seeing the club come to life. Thank you Fosters!

The Leventhorpe School in Sawbridgeworth invited me to attend their Christmas lunch their Sixth Form put on for older people in the area. I went along to distribute some flyers and ‘drum up some business’, which was very successful! I was inundated with calls when I left and lots of positive feedback. We also had an offer from the school’s brass band to perform on our launch day! Bringing the community together like this is so incredibly important.

I would also like to express thanks and gratitude to the Jo Cox Loneliness campaign. We reached out to them a few months ago to tell them about The Welbeloved Club, and asked if they would support and promote this. They didn’t hesitate, and explained that Jo would be immensely proud of the initiative. Jo once said, “I will not live in a country where thousands of people are living lonely lives forgotten by the rest of us”.

We hope we can carry on Jo’s legacy and do our bit towards ending loneliness in our area.

Our way of giving back – 

We are currently in talks with Little Hallingbury’s annual Panto to provide them with sponsorship this year. We couldn’t be more excited about this, and feel very privileged to be in a position to do so. We will be covering the costs of their programmes and in return we will be able to advertise to nearly 600 people over the course of a week. Information on tickets and dates to follow shortly.

Final thoughts for 2017 –

With the year drawing to a close, I am feeling very optimistic about the future. My optimism has been tinged with sadness, as I am reminded that loneliness is a very real problem going on right now, with many forms I have had back leaving the ‘next of kin’ blank. I have collected a form from a lovely lady, who explained that I am in fact the only person she will speak to this weekend, as she has ‘not a soul’ to speak to. I am delighted we have been provided with the resources to pull this project off as it has been made painfully obvious there is a huge need for it.

This Christmas, can I ask that all of you keep in your thoughts all of those that will be facing the day alone, and any support you can offer to charities that support vulnerable people in this position is so vital. Organisations like The SilverLine will be providing support 24 hours a day over the Christmas period and rely heavily on donations. If you have a few quid left after your Christmas shopping, believe me it will go a long way.

Reach out to friends, family and even neighbours who might be alone this Christmas. I’m sure everyone has an extra chair around the table.

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to everyone, we look forward to seeing you in February 2018!!

Jo