How Holbeck's elderly folk are keeping out the cold this winter

“If it was not for places like this – the older people would not get out.”

Wednesday, 18th December 2019, 6:00 am
A community cafe in Holbeck is a lifeline for many local pensioners.

Mary West is talking about a church turned community centre serving up bacon butties, brews and breakfasts.

Simple as that, but for many of the elderly population in this Leeds inner city area – this Thursday morning community cafe is the best diary date they will have that week.

As the Yorkshire Evening Post shines a light on winter health issues during our series this week, here, Emma Ryan looks at how a pilot project in Holbeck is proving to be a local lifeline.

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Audrey Hardy, 90, enjoys a chat with a volunteer over her breakfast.

On a wet and wild Thursday morning in Holbeck, as the elections polls are open and the countdown to Christmas is on – it would be reasonable to expect that people had better things to do than turn out for a cuppa at a volunteer run cafe.

Not so.

The former church hall at St Matthew’s is buzzing. The smell of freshly cooked breakfasts, toast and some stray ping pong balls are making for a regular Thursday morning.

The community cafe is run by Holbeck Together and is one of several activities staged by the Neighbourhood Network Scheme to help tackle loneliness and isolation and encourage independence among the older residents of a community that finds itself as one of the 0.2 per cent poorest areas in England.

Volunteer Mary Chapman, serving breakfast for Rita Wormald.

Mrs West, 81, said: “I come on a Tuesday and have a three course dinner and singing class. I have joined the choir. On Wednesday I have dinner at Ingram Court. On Thursday I have breakfast and Friday is fish and chips and on Saturday we are singing at Morrisons at Hunslet.

“I am busy and it keeps me going. I have got to keep going. If it was not for places like this older people would not get out at all. It would be easy to feel lonely and isolated and that is why I am thankful for places like this.

“It is night-time that I feel lonely. I don’t go out of a night so I do enough during the day so I relax at night.”

The cafe started as a pilot and came about on the back of Holbeck Elderly Action Aid (as it was known prior to a name change earlier this year) doing a consultation at a lunch club as to what local folk wanted and needed.

Mary West, 81, makes herself a cup of tea.

As well as the food, there is line dancing and ping pong for some physical activity.

Some come just for a chat and don’t bother with the food. Once a month the cafe is attended by representatives from agencies such as the NHS and Leeds City Council offering advice and tips of all manner of issues.

Claire Holmes is the operation and service officer and says the set up also encourages people to come to the cafe alone as Holbeck Together staff and the volunteers that cook and serve in the community cafe are always on hand to chat to people.

Originally, the cafe was designed to accommodate people over 60, but it was opened up to everybody and became somewhere for the community to go.

She said there had been a gap in the market as the other local cafes weren’t geared up for sitting in and conversation. The work Holbeck Together does has been recognised by the council which has issued a grant to allow the organisation to step up its other services.

“It has extended our services for winter. Especially in this area, people don’t have family or friends that live here so loneliness and isolation is a massive issue,” she told the YEP.

Audrey Hardy is 90 years old and lives alone. As she tucks into a full English she is quite sure she wouldn’t get out as much, if at all, especially as the service also picks up and drops off some users.

She said: “I have been coming for a very long time. I enjoy meeting people and it gets you out. Otherwise I would get depressed and horrible things.

“I come twice a week and a Sunday morning once a month and I go on all the trips. I don’t think that I would get out as much.”

Last year, Holbeck Together says that people made 7,202 journeys using its community transport, and the buses covered more than 23,569 miles which is almost a full trip around the world.

Via the various events, it also helps with fire safety and carbon monoxide detector checks, house repairs and gardening and hospital appointments.

Quite often some of these issues, as well as the loneliness would see the old folk turning elsewhere for advice and companionship, says Claire.

“It does relieve pressure on A&E and GPs. We have served 200 meals this week and with other activities they don’t have time to think about loneliness.

“It is this work that prevents a crisis. It is hard to articulate the impact of what happens when you sit in a room and have a wonderful Christmas lunch together. The wellbeing that creates is hard to articulate but it does.”