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Column: Tackling loneliness with vintage tea parties

Dr David Crichton with Sue Oxley and Leigh Calladine
Dr David Crichton with Sue Oxley and Leigh Calladine

Last week I went on a sentimental trip down memory lane when I was invited to visit a new themed café in Edlington.

It was filled with ornaments, photographs and other items that took me back to my schooldays and visits to my grandparents.

I sat enjoying a cuppa with Sue Oxley, one of the directors of Aspiring 2, who told me all about this not-for-profit organisation, which formed four years ago to support local communities with a range of activities, from employment support to IT training.

One innovative element of their work has been organising vintage tea parties in local community centres, called Special Times for Special Memories. They provide a welcoming opportunity for people aged over 50, or those who are feeling lonely, or have a disability or long term illness which is preventing them from meeting people, to enjoy an afternoon of tea, sandwiches and cakes served on vintage crockery.

The social session also includes a down memory lane musical bingo, a display of bygone memorabilia, all accompanied by tunes from the 40s, 50s and 60s.

All the items chosen are designed to evoke memories that can be shared to stimulate discussion and develop friendships between local residents of all ages. Carers and family members are welcome to make the day even more memorable.

Sue, who has a background in community development and fellow director Nicky Birkinshaw, who also works for a large national charity, have so far organised more than 80 of these events which are bringing people together and getting them talking. It’s a great way of reducing isolation and signposting people to services that can help them that they are not always aware of.

The good news is now, as well as taking their tea parties into different communities, they also have a permanent base. It’s thanks to Edlington Hilltop Centre, which has kindly allowed one of the former school’s classrooms to be used to turn back the years.

Every Thursday the café will open from 10am to 3pm offering, for a small contribution, a hot drink, slice of cake and somewhere to have a chat.

Community-based activities and opportunities like this are a key element of the new Doncaster Place Plan, which is looking at how health and care services can be jointly developed and how residents can be supported to maintain their independence for as long as possible.

Much of that support will come from Doncaster’s communities, driven by local voluntary groups like Aspiring 2, with help from public sector organisations like the NHS and Doncaster Council. For information about tea parties ring 07913 314511.