This cafe is helping socially isolated older people in Leeds as figures say 37,000 are 'lonely' in city

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As darkness falls earlier in the day and temperatures dip below freezing, the need to ensure vulnerable people are not alone is critical during winter.

But projects in Leeds are now making sure elderly people and those suffering from social isolation aren’t left out in the cold.

Raymond and Margaret Taylor, of Austhorpe, Leeds, with Dr Tom Gibbs at the Live Well Cafe in Cross Gates.

Raymond and Margaret Taylor, of Austhorpe, Leeds, with Dr Tom Gibbs at the Live Well Cafe in Cross Gates.

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For the third in a series of special reports focusing on winter health pressures, the YEP is today exploring the vital initiatives that have sprung up in communities, helping to ease the strain on over-stretched GP practices this winter.

Tackling social isolation, they range from support for vulnerable residents and supper clubs for the elderly to newly-launched groups at libraries aimed at people with dementia.

There are 246,000 elderly people living in Leeds, according to latest figures.

Volunteers and members of the Live Well Cafe, based at Crossgates Library, Leeds.

Volunteers and members of the Live Well Cafe, based at Crossgates Library, Leeds.

And it is estimated that 15 per cent - some 37,000 older people - are lonely and socially-isolated in the city.

That, organisers have said, is where the Live Well Cafe steps in.

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Operating out of Crossgates Library, the cafe opens its doors every Thursday to an average of about 20 residents, including elderly people and those suffering from long-term health conditions.

Christine and Trevor Bedford, who attend the Live Well Cafe at Crossgates Library.

Christine and Trevor Bedford, who attend the Live Well Cafe at Crossgates Library.

Run and themed like a coffee morning, it is staffed by workers from Leeds City Council and charity organisations and gives vulnerable people a place to meet in public, make new friends, create advice posters, pictured right, and discuss any issues they could be facing.

Crucially, the cafe also has a healthcare professional on hand, a local GP or a qualified nurse, to offer clinical guidance and avoid unnecessary appointments or waiting times.

The weekly sessions are organised and run by Jess Helyer, 19, a project development officer at Leeds City Council, and Debra Backhouse.

The pair took over from the local NHS, which first launched the cafe, in order to ensure the sessions continued.

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'I felt a bit isolated... I'm better now'

For Raymond Taylor, who has battled with depression for more than two decades, Live Well has been a lifeline.

The 76-year-old grandad-of-six has attended the group session for 18 months alongside his wife, Margaret, after being referred, and have struck up strong friendships.

“I suffer from depression and a nurse I saw said ‘why don’t you come and join in’ with the group,” he recalled.

“And I have been here ever since. I’m a lot better now.”

Mr Taylor, who also suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), said the weekly sessions gave him the “extra support” that he needed.
“I felt a bit isolated,” he said.

“But it’s seeing people, meeting people, talking and making friends.

"Two people that we met, we now go to the pub for a pensioners' dinner every other Tuesday.

"They've become very, very good friends."

He said that before the group, his wife, Margaret, provided his main support anchor and helped monitor his mood.

"Back then [before joining the group] my wife knew when I had off and on days," Mr Taylor said.

"But I just felt I need some extra support."

The dad-of-three, of Selby Road, Cross Gates, also highlighted how the cafe was taking pressure off local GP surgeries.

“You can always talk to the GP or a nurse here and it means I don’t have to go the doctors if I have an issue,” he said.

"People who come here are now spending a lot less time with GPs at the doctors."

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Dr Tom Gibbs, from nearby Church View Surgery in Cross Gates, is among those to support the project since it began.

“There are specific medical needs that people will speak to us about,” he said.

“Someone talked to me this recently at the meeting with questions about diabetes and what medicine they were on.

“I’ll go back to the surgery now and get their medication tweaked.”

He said it helped cut the number of people attending surgeries for appointments over issues, instead dealt with at the weekly sessions.

"We certainly feel anecdotally that there has been less need for people to come and see us for a 10-minute appointment because we are here," Dr Gibbs said.

Other areas have got their own solutions, but this is something that I would like to see happening across Leeds."

'It has given him confidence'

Christine Bedford, has been attending the cafe for 18 months with her husband, Trevor, and sister, Diane Meredith.

Mrs Bedford has been a carer for her husband, now 65, who suffers from COPD, cancer and depression, for 20 years.

"The cafe has really helped them both," Mrs Bedford, from Cross Gates, said.

"Trevor now gets up on a morning - it has given him a purpose on days when he doesn't have anything to do.

"It's good coming here because he communicates."

She said Mr Bedford, who used to work as a trainer at Royal Mail, had "gone backwards" and stopped engaging with others while struggling with depression.

"But with the cafe, he now has a voice again," the 57-year-old said proudly.

"It has given him confidence and motivation. When he first started coming, he used to just sit and listen.

"We still have times when he feels low but he has made friends here and now they ask him for advice too."

New cafe launching this week

Such has been the success of the cafe, first launched by local NHS bosses but now run by the council and charity organisations, that a second Live Well is set to open this week.

The new cafe, which opens on Friday, will have weekly sessions at the Recovery Hub in Seacroft.