Close community grows closer thanks to lunch club

September 2012

Since opening in June, Kennedy Lunch Club in Blackhill has become a jewel in the community for many elderly, isolated and lonely people, who are now able to enjoy the company and conversation of others as well as a tasty, nutritious lunch. But it's not just the guests who are reaping the benefits of this warm, enjoyable gathering; each member of the team of regular volunteers is also thriving in its midst.

Almost all of the volunteers have been born and brought up in the neighbourhood and can remember many of their guests looking out for them when they were children. "A lot of our regular guests were friends of our mothers or of other family members and were there for us when we were growing up," says lunch club volunteer, Chris. "It's lovely that the lunch club is allowing us to return the favour, giving us a way to look after them a little bit now."

Although most of the volunteers have also known each other most of their lives, volunteering has strengthened their bonds and helped them to get to know each other better. Now, they all think of each other as close friends and feel their friendship has helped them to create their dynamic team.

"It's incredible how quickly we all just fell into the different roles that were needed to make up the team," said Chris. "Maeve was just made for the role of our cook, Brenda seems to spend most of her time with her hands in water, washing up, while others provide transport for the guests or spend time in conversation. Everyone just found their natural role and it all seemed to happen so effortlessly."

Guests and volunteers come together at Kennedy Lunch Club every week to share food, conversation, activities and friendship and there is no doubt that it is changing and improving people's lives. Guest, Jean has been coming to the lunch club since it first opened and is thrilled she has somewhere she can look forward to going every week. The volunteers have even arranged to pick her up and take her home after her emphysema left her struggling to walk up the path from her car.

"I just feel so lucky to be able to come here," said Jean. "Before the lunch club opened, I used to spend most of my days at home, staring at the four walls. Occasionally, I'd manage to pop to the shops, but I couldn't do that very often and I still didn't have any company even when I did. This place is a Godsend."

Praise for the lunch club also comes from a group of men who regularly sit together to enjoy their meal and some much-needed company and conversation. For most of these men, the Kennedy Lunch Club is the only social contact they have each week. "It's the best!" said Clarence.

As well as a welcoming place to socialise and make friends, Kennedy Lunch Club provides a home cooked, hot meal and dessert; coffee and biscuits; a free prize raffle and free prize bingo.

"I've had to make my money stretch a long way in my time," added Bill, "but the things the volunteers can do with just £3 a week from each of us is amazing. I really don't know how they do it."

Kennedy Lunch Club is one of 11 projects set up around the region as part of St Cuthberts Care's pioneering PACE (Parish and Community Enablement) initiative. PACE encourages and supports volunteers to set up compassionate, friendly and engaging social gatherings in their own community where those who are vulnerable, elderly or lonely can meet to share a meal or snack, make new friends and take part in fun activities.

Kennedy Lunch Club is held every Thursday between 10.30am and 2.30pm in Our Blessed Lady Immaculate Parish Hall on Derwent Street, Consett. If you or someone you know would like to come along to Kennedy Lunch Club or if you would like to find out about volunteering, telephone 01207 508847.