National Lottery grant brings smiles and love to Doncaster pensioners

Group members pose with their cheque as they make fat ball bird feeders at the Ragusa Drive Communal Hall in Doncaster. Photo : Anthony Devlin
Group members pose with their cheque as they make fat ball bird feeders at the Ragusa Drive Communal Hall in Doncaster. Photo : Anthony Devlin

“Smiles and love” are on the cards for lonely pensioners in Doncaster thanks to £241,000 of National Lottery funding.

People who may have previously gone from week to week not seeing anyone, now have a regular “friend” following the announcement of the funding boost awarded by Big Lottery Fund, the largest distributor of funds raised by National Lottery players.

The money is being awarded to a local befriending service for lonely over 65s living in the community. It means that those at risk of loneliness and isolation will now have a regular “friend” to rely upon.

The service, b:Friend, was launched almost a year ago by Doncaster resident, Mike Niles. Mike, aged 31, previously worked for an older person’s befriending project in London. After returning to his home town, Doncaster, he identified a real need for a similar service in the area.

He gave up a full time job in marketing to start the project and has been operating it from his kitchen at home ever since. Since its launch Mike has received more than 200 applications from local people wanting to become volunteers.

b:Friend volunteers visit the elderly once a week for tea and biscuits and the volunteers also take their new friends out for local trips. In addition to this, group sessions are held every week where the elderly can come together for afternoon tea, dancing sessions, talks and workshops.

Mike Niles, founder of b:Friend, said: “News of this massive funding boost is just fantastic. This will not only secure the project, it will also enable us to expand and take on support staff so we can help even more people – probably double the numbers.

“We will be able to run more weekly sessions and bring smiles and love to even more people in our local community.”

One of the project beneficiaries, Alan is visited by Julia, a volunteer befriender, every week. He said, “Having the support from Julia means the world to me, I don’t know what I’d have done without her. Despite the 60 year age gap you can tell she really cares. I look forward to seeing her every week and it stops me getting lonely. Sometimes we go out on day trips, for a coffee or to the garden centre. On my 93rd birthday I wouldn’t have seen anybody had it not been for her and we went out for fish and chips! It’s amazing to hear that b:Friend have received funding to be able to help more people like me.”

Abdou Sidibe, Yorkshire and Humber Regional Head of Funding at the Big Lottery Fund, said: “We are thrilled to support b:Friend, which is providing a vital service for people at risk of loneliness and isolation, who may go from week to week without seeing anyone.

“This is a great example of a project led by local people in a local community that thanks to the support of National Lottery players and the efforts of Mike and his team, older people in Doncaster should feel better supported and less lonely.”

National Lottery players raise on average £30 million every week for projects across the UK, both big and small, from supporting community groups to funding the nation’s athletes. To see the difference National Lottery funding makes in your area, please visit, www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk