Soup, soup, soup…

Who knew a simple bowl of soup could be the catalyst for amazing community development and support?  Well the people of Detroit Soup knew, that’s who.

In 2012 Amy Kaherl of  Detroit Soup held the first soup event. A $5 donation at the door, you listen to 5 community initiatives pitch for your vote, you enjoy your bowl of soup and bread, you vote for your favourite and the winner gets the takings from the door.  That’s it! Simple! Brilliant!

Fast forward to 2016 in Stirling, Scotland and Kathryn Welch is leading her team of volunteers to launch the first ever Stirling Soup. On the evening of Friday 27th May 2016 the Albert Halls in Stirling was packed to standing room only. I was lucky enough to be the first of the five pitchers that evening making the case for  Contact the Elderly tea parties combatting social isolation among older people. I was followed by Nikki from Couthie Cantie telling us about her Community Cook School aiming to inspire and teach ‘scratch cooking’ skills. Third up on stage was Rosie from The Conservation Volunteers explaining the notion of a Green Gym where volunteers help with tree and meadow planting and wildlife conservation. Next we heard from Sandra from Bridge of Allan Community Council who have plans to raise awareness of their newly refurbished play park by holding a celebration fun day.  Finally it was the turn of Savi and Lesley from Stirling Citizens for Sanctuary. This group are doing marvellous work with refugees coming into the Forth Valley area by providing befriending, interpretation services and practical and material support.


The crowd then enjoyed the delicious bowls of soup and bread on offer from Sprinkle Happiness and Riverside Bakery. Music was provided by the University of Stirling Live Music Society and, as an added treat, Lush were also ‘on hand’ to do hand massages. This gave everyone time to chat to the pitchers further and make up their minds about their vote.  At the end of the day Savi and Lesley from Stirling Citizens for Sanctuary were the very worthy winners and went away with the pot of money from the door containing £630!

It’s a wonderful, simple initiative and for all the pitchers it was an excellent opportunity to get our projects out there in the public arena and to be able to chat to the very receptive audience about the work that we are doing.  Soup is indeed the catalyst for community initiatives, development and support, there was so much good will and desire to help improve the local community amongst those gathered in the hall.

BBC reporter Richard Fenton-Smith, when reporting on Detroit Soup, once asked “Can soup change the world?”  I think the answer to that is “indeed it can!”


The 6th Stirling Soup is now being planned for March 2019 and is now run by Laura Brown and Liam Miller. If you would like to apply to pitch at it then contact stirlingsoup@outlook.com .  Edinburgh Soup were the first soup in Scotland when they launched a few  years ago, to date they have raised over 5K! There are also plans in place for more Soups across Scotland, the latest one being Dundee Soup which took place in April 2017. 


Home working isn’t really like this.

As the world went in to lockdown and workplaces closed their doors, there was a sudden rush for employees to set up as homeworkers if they could. Spare rooms were commandeered, kitchen tables cleared, a corner of the bedroom tidied up. Tech was needed to be set up, laptops, mobile phones, printers, logging in to the organisation’s system, what about webcams, GDPR, IT support, office stationery? As all this was going on around me amongst my colleagues, friends, family and the wider world the one thought in my head was ‘welcome to my world’.

I have been a home-based worker for over 20 years with several different organisations. I’ve worked in the spare room, a corner of the bedroom and at the kitchen table. I find it an ideal working environment, I’m at my most productive and creative when working like this and leading home- based teams has been a pleasure and has proven to be a highly effective route to innovation and productivity.

However, during the lockdown period home-based working has had to go to the extreme. Zoom meetings, webinars, online training, conference calls, virtual networking, WhatsApp groups, screen sharing, phone catch ups, Facebook live, Slack chats, Yammer messaging – the list goes on and on….

I compare my current home- based work to my previous home- based work and I miss all the face to face interaction, the team meetings, the networking events, the staff one to ones, the conferences, the training sessions, meetings with sector peers, funders, supporters, volunteers and charity beneficiaries.

To everyone who has been forced in to a home working situation and is struggling with the isolation and the necessary tech based communication I just want to say it’s not really like this, it’s really not! Home- based working, although based at home also needs to include all that human interaction that feeds the soul and sparks creativity.

I look forward to the day when we can get back to some form of that essential human contact as it has become crystal clear to me that a key part of being a home-based worker is that you don’t spend all your time at home and the times away from home are essential.

If you plan to continue being a home-based worker after lockdown and are concerned about maintaining this current working model, don’t worry, it isn’t really like this.




Third Sector is the First Sector

Big shout out to all my fellow Third Sector workers!

Charities have found themselves under increasing pressure during this current crisis. Tackling loneliness, poverty, homelessness, hunger, discrimination, inequality and tirelessly working to make life better for those who need our help most, often as the first port of call in a crisis.

Covid 19 is exponentially increasing the workload, pressure and great need for the vital charity sector at the same time as the funding to provide these services has drastically decreased or stopped altogether.

They often go unnoticed but charities are doing all they can and more to grow and adapt their services to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in our society in incredibly difficult circumstances.

SCVO will capture the stories and the learning as a piece of social history. They will use those stories and learnings to stimulate debate on what next, where this takes us, what a “new normal” looks like. It will challenge traditional norms.

You can get involved on the #NeverMoreNeeded campaign page.

To support our charities, please do continue to donate if you can and, if you have time to volunteer, there are thousands of volunteering opportunities available too. Thank you x




Power of Music

I’m not a runner, never have been and don’t plan to be. In fact, if you see me running you better start running too as something must be chasing me! 😁

So…. why have I just signed up for the Edinburgh Marathon Festival 5K?

Two years ago 22 people tragically lost their lives in the Manchester Arena terrorist attack. One of them was 14 year old Eilidh Macleod from the Isle of Barra. Eilidh was a piper in the Sgoil Lionacleit Pipe Band.

Eilidh’ s family and friends have now set up ‘Eilidh’s Trust’ in her memory , a charity dedicated to advancing music education and opportunities for young people. The aim is to enable young people to continue Eilidh’s musical journey.

The Trust will support young people and children to advance their musical ambitions by providing access to music activities including tuition and performance opportunities. It will offer budding musicians the chance to explore their talents through high quality and affordable music making provisions within their local communities.

I may not be a runner but I do love walking and I also believe that music education for young people is so important so, as supporters of this charity, I will walk and my 15 year old son, Murray, will pipe the 5K route.

Our fundraising page can be found here and I would be really grateful for any donations to support this very worthwhile cause.

Eilidh’s Trust can be found at www.eilidhstrust.org.uk


Anti-ageing! It’s everywhere.

There’s lotions, potions, creams and make-up. Shampoo, moisturisers, face masks and toothpaste. There’s anti-ageing diets promoting superfoods, revitalisng drinks, vitamins, herbal mixes, homeopathic remedies and juicing whilst at the same time we read the latest story about the oldest person on the planet reaching that age on wine, chocolate and a maverick attitude!

We’re told about anti-ageing exercises, treatments, laser surgery, sun lamps and cosmetic procedures. We’re advised on clothes, underwear, hairstyle, hair colour and even eyebrow shape!

There are books, magazines, dvds, radio programmes, tv programmes, you tube channels, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Snaps, Insta influencers, podcasts and blogs all dedicated to anti-ageing.

We can even go on retreats, workshops and seminars to learn, discuss and discover the best ways to beat ageing.


Ageing is a sign of survival- what’s the alternative? Not surviving? Not a great option. We need to celebrate having survived and realise that the wrinkles, the lines, the grey hairs are a mark of success, of having reached a point in life that is your new record and you beat that record every day by getting older day by day. A ‘personal best’ you might say.

Whilst there appears to be a huge industry in ‘ anti-ageing’ and there is a myriad of ways that are promoted to be able to ‘stay young’, it can’t be denied that we are, all of us, not staying young! And that surely is the point.

We are all getting older and that is a good thing, we should stop trying to defy ageing and, instead, live positively. Shake off the dreadful, negative, old age stereotypes and ask yourself what is so bad about ageing that it has created such an ‘anti’ industry?

Let’s all be pro-age and let’s call out and challenge all the age discrimination that exists out there which has led to this huge ‘anti-ageing’ phenomenon.

Let’s do it today.


twitter: @mornaomay


“Tea parties – what else do you do?”

This is a question that every member of staff and many of our volunteers at Contact the Elderly will have been asked at some point. I know I was asked it just recently at a charity networking event.

Yes, that’s what we do – tea parties. We are all about the tea parties and we have been doing them very successfully for over 50 years.

The tea parties are volunteer led with volunteer drivers collecting older people from their homes and taking them to the home of a volunteer host to enjoy a Sunday afternoon tea party with 5 or 6 other older people and their drivers.

The tea parties happen once a month on Sunday afternoons and they take place all over the UK.

These get-togethers provide a lifeline of friendship for isolated, older people in our communities. They provide an opportunity for interaction, chat, companionship and a route out of the loneliness felt by so many.

Having recently listened to Baya Voce’s TedX talk about loneliness https://youtu.be/KSXh1YfNyVA her words about having an “anchor of connection” struck a chord. Baya spoke about having rituals, anchors, safe places that you go back to to connect with others. For our guests and volunteers that ‘anchor of connection’ is our tea parties, the place where the individual is ” seen, heard and valued “. We all need to be seen, heard and valued. It gives us a sense of belonging and of beinging needed and of value to others.

An older lady in one of our tea party groups had been widowed for many years, she had little contact with her daughter who had moved abroad and all her friends had passed away.

She sat quietly at the tea parties each month but seemed to enjoy listening to the chat. She then became unwell, went in to hospital and missed the next month’s party. Fortunately she regained strength and returned home.

The following month she was picked up by her volunteer driver again for the tea party and when they arrived one of the other guests welcomed her by saying ‘we missed you last month’. The lady started to cry and when she was comforted by the other guests and volunteers, she explained that no one had missed her for many years and that it was lovely to hear those words said about her! Within this group she feels valued, something she had not experienced for some time.

An older gentleman recently told his volunteer driver that it felt so good to be able to chat and tell someone all about his life, his family and their achievements. He was delighted and proud to tell of his grandson’s graduation in Canada and of his granddaughter’s wedding, neither of which he had been able to attend but he took such great pleasure in sharing the photos.

Jean is an older lady who attends a tea party group and whilst sitting in the waiting room at her local surgery waiting to see her GP she was somewhat taken aback when a young woman with two small children spoke to her. At first Jean didn’t recognise the young woman but it then came to light that she was a volunteer tea party host for Jean’s group and Jean had been at her home several months earlier. It all came back to Jean and she remembered the two children keeping everyone amused at the tea party. She was thrilled that this young family had remembered her.

On all these occasions and on many thousands more the tea party groups are providing a vital anchor of connection where older guests feel seen, heard and valued. It’s something we all want out of life, it’s an invaluable part of living a contented, happy existence.

Yes, we do tea parties and when asked “tea parties – what else do you do?” We can confidently respond “nothing”. We do tea parties, nothing less, nothing more – but it’s so much more.

Morna O’May

Head of Service, Scotland


An Invisible Thread

An Invisible Thread

Jim is lonely, his wife has died, his family live abroad and at the age of 83 many of his friends have passed away too. His mobility is reduced and he is no longer able to drive which is increasing his isolation. Most days he is alone inside the four walls of his house.

There are hundreds of thousands of Jims all over the country suffering loneliness and isolation.
It has been described as an epidemic.

• About 3.9 million older people say the television is their main company.
• Over half of all people aged 75 and over live alone .
• Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%
• lonely people have a 64% increased chance of developing clinical dementia
• Loneliness can be worse for your health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

These are the facts, these are facts that you may be well aware of and have come across before.

We know there is a loneliness and isolation problem among older people in this country, we’ve done the research, we’ve gathered the statistics, we’ve compiled the anecdotes – but what do we actually do about it?

In 1965, in Marlborough, London , a Sunday afternoon tea party was organised for a group of older people who were experiencing isolation and loneliness. Volunteers offered to drive the older guests to the tea party and other volunteers offered to take it in turns each month to host the tea party in their own home.

‘CONTACT THE ELDERLY’ was born………..

52 years later we are still holding monthly Sunday afternoon tea parties for groups of isolated, older people all over the UK.
It works – so we keep doing it.

Contact the Elderly is focused on tackling one of the greatest challenges facing society; loneliness and isolation among our rapidly ageing population, through face to face contact. In order to do this we have this wonderful, invaluable and yet often invisible thread running through our charity…..

….. that is our 11,124 volunteers (that number rises every day). We have a vast network of volunteer drivers collecting older people from their homes and taking them to the tea parties, volunteer hosts who take it in turns throughout the year to host an afternoon tea in their home and we have volunteer coordinators who manage each group and make sure it all runs smoothly.

Across the UK we now have nearly 800 tea party groups with over 100 of those being in Scotland. Our volunteers are providing a regular, consistent and vital friendship link every month to over 6,000 older people who live alone, without family or friends nearby. In Scotland we are supporting almost 1000 older people.

None of this would be possible without the selfless and vital work of our huge army of volunteers. Contact the Elderly simply wouldn’t exist without them. They are quietly working away all over the UK to create and maintain these essential friendship links that are so important to the older people in their communities.

I say ‘quietly working away’ because even after 52 years in existence, every week we come across people who say ‘ oh I’ve never heard of Contact the Elderly before!’ That’s not really so surprising, that’s the nature of an ‘invisible thread’, our format is small groups of people attending tea parties in private houses and being taken there in private cars, it’s not a public activity and once a group is up and running, the guests, the drivers, the hosts – they just become a group of friends meeting up monthly and enjoying a cup of tea, some home baking and a blether.

It’s a simple and very effective model, it works, our 11 thousand volunteers are the invisible thread in our communities that are helping to the reduce that isolation and loneliness among older people all over the UK. The social gatherings bring individuals together helping them to develop fulfilling friendships and support networks. Over the months and years, acquaintances turn into friendships and loneliness is replaced by companionship.

As a charity, Contact the Elderly are enormously fortunate to have such a remarkable, dedicated and loyal network of over 11 thousand volunteers. We are always signing up new volunteers to help us extend our work but an amazing 10% of our volunteers have been with us for more than 10 years and just last month I was delighted to hand out Loyal Service Awards to 9 volunteers in Scotland who have all been with us for more than 40 years!.

Why does it work so well?

• Our tea parties take place on Sunday, which has been highlighted as a particularly lonely day of the week for older people living alone. Weekends can be particularly challenging for isolated people as other services and groups are less available, as well as public transport options being limited.

• Contact the Elderly keeps its groups small, with the same individuals meeting every month, which means that guests and volunteers make lasting and fulfilling intergenerational friendships in the warm and welcoming environment of someone’s home. We are currently launching, on average, two new groups every week of the year but we also have many long-standing, established tea parties.

• The benefits extend well beyond the one-Sunday-a-month gathering, with the long-term nature of groups making them an integral part of a guest’s life. Real friendships are formed and many volunteers go above and beyond in helping their guests with their weekly shopping, taking them to and from hospital appointments or just checking up on their general welfare through the month. The groups also help guests with their social and emotional needs. Many older people wish to remain in their own home as long as they can, but their lessened mobility makes it nearly impossible for them to maintain regular social contact.

• Our guests say they feel less lonely as a result of Contact the Elderly

• They have something to look forward to

• They feel happier as a result of their tea parties.

• Our guests have become friends with volunteers and with other older guests.

• The thing they enjoy most about our tea parties is the company

• They feel more a part of their community again

• Some have reported feeling more confident and that their general wellbeing has improved as a result of our tea parties.

With our 52 years of experience of developing and supporting groups nationwide, we know that the regular friendship links produced through the work that our volunteers are doing provides a simple but profound solution to a complex problem.

The small acts of kindness shown by our volunteers have the most remarkable and lasting impact.

Our presence has rapidly grown in cities, towns and villages throughout Scotland and the UK but we know there are many more who would benefit from our tea parties and we are determined to offer the vital lifeline of friendship to as many older people as we can.

To do that we will continue to grow the invisible thread, we will work to recruit even more of these wonderful people who are offering regular opportunities for social interaction and companionship to isolated, lonely ,older people.

That invisible thread of volunteering may be quietly working away, it may, more often than not, BE invisible but for those older people across the country who have had their lives transformed, who have felt like they were drowning and have now come to the surface and can breath again, who have felt the painful ache of loneliness but a door was opened to them and a new family was there waiting for them – to them it is not so much an invisible thread – but a Golden Thread.

Morna O’May, Head of Service, Scotland. Contact the Elderly.

References –
• (Age UK, 2014)
• (ONS, 2010)
• (Holt-Lunstad, 2015)
• (Holwerda et al, 2012)
• (Campaign to End Loneliness)
• (Contact the Elderly)
. (Hummingbird Communications)




It’s that time of year when the advent calendars make an appearance. Do you have one that gives you a chocolate every day, have you purchased 24 surprises for your children’s calendar?

How about trying something a bit different this year? Here is the GoodStuffGreatIdeas advent calender which features a great Third Sector organisation each day throughout December. Each day there is a different charity to learn about and if you like their work, give them a follow, like their page, share their links, find out more, volunteer with them, fundraise for them or make a donation…..

….and share this blog so everyone has the chance to do this too.

Merry Christmas


Chief Encounters

A recent interview I did with Third Force News

What makes a good day at work?

Hearing about the comments made by the older guests in our groups. This week a new guest said “I thought this was going to be really stuffy but I’ve never laughed so much in a long time.”

What makes you most proud of Contact the Elderly?

In 50 years our basic ethos hasn’t changed. Sunday afternoon tea parties for groups of isolated, older people. It’s a simple, effective idea and it works so we keep doing it. I am most proud of the wonderful army of volunteers who enable us to keep doing this, they’re a brilliant bunch.

Do you socialise with colleagues outside the Christmas party?

Yes, absolutely. In Scotland we have a fantastic team and it makes for a supportive working environment when you know you can also call your colleagues your friends.

What’s the best thing that’s happened this month?

Two best things actually – we launched our campaign ‘Be Our Guest’ to encourage more isolated older people to join our groups. It’s creating interest which is great because isolated, older people exist in every community, the challenging part is reaching them and letting them know about our groups.

Secondly, we have been shortlisted for The Herald Society Award for best Older People’s Project in Scotland.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Don’t be concerned about feeling grown-up – you never do. And neither does anyone else!

Is the third sector a calling or an accident?

Whilst in a corporate role I liaised with the various Charities of the Year. I met with the representatives of several charities and used to think “I’d quite like to have your job”. So part calling, part accident.

Is getting older in our society getting harder?

I believe it is. Families are more dispersed, we have many older guests in our groups with family all over the world. Social media and digital technology has its place and the use of video chat certainly helps but nothing beats face to face contact which is where our tea parties play such an important role.

If you were your boss would you like you?

I think so, I’ve had some great bosses and I’m still friends and in touch with them so hopefully this means they have liked being my boss. One of them is actually now one of our volunteers.

Do you volunteer, and if so what do you do?

Yes, with Mealmakers, The Worldwide Tribe, Mary’s Meals, a local refugee support group and Stirling Soup. Mostly befriending and fundraising.

You’re home, fully fed with your feet up – which comes first Eastenders or emails?

Emails – but not work ones, personal ones.

What’s the best book ever written?

A Garden of Eden in Hell by Alice Hertz-Sommer.  At 110 Alice was the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor. A concert pianist, she used her music to survive the concentration camps with her young son.

A very close second is Sally Magnusson’s Where Memories Go, the story of her mother’s life with dementia and how music kept her connected to her family. Ultimately this experience led to Sally founding the charity, Playlist for Life.

Two books that highlight the amazing power of music.

What cake would you take to a tea party?

Someone else’s. I’m definitely not a baker but there are so many fabulous bakers amongst our tea party hosts. I’ll leave the baking to those who do it really well.

What advice would you give to someone who’s worried about an elderly neighbour?

Speak to them, ask if you can help. Suggest organisations that may be able to help. Most importantly keep the communication going, maybe all that is needed is a cup of tea and a chat.

Which Brian Cox?

Actor – because he’s William Wallace’s Uncle Argyle.

Morna O’May is Head of Service at Contact the Elderly.
Read more at http://thirdforcenews.org.uk/features/chief-encounters-morna-omay?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_content=Oktopost-twitter-profile&utm_campaign=Oktopost-2016-10+General+Campaign#ykiQIOdqyj4QDUxs.99

Are you a volunteer?

Volunteering quote 2

Are you a volunteer?

Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes and volunteering roles also come in all shapes and sizes, indeed you may not even immediately think of yourself or others as volunteers.

Volunteers’ Week is the perfect time to reflect on what exactly we think of volunteering. During Volunteer Week organisations including Volunteer Scotland, SCVO and the Third Sector Interfaces have been thanking, showcasing and celebrating volunteers all over the country. Voluntary organisations have shown their appreciation for their volunteers by taking part in online awards ceremonies, presenting digital certificates and highlighting the fantastic work done by their amazing volunteers.

Volunteering takes many forms and some are very obvious like working a shift in a charity shop, donating your time as a befriender to a refugee arriving in this country or sharing your skills as a trustee on a board. All clearly identifiable volunteering roles. Other types of volunteering may not be so obvious and we may not immediately define it as volunteering. There’s the parent who helps sell raffle tickets at the playgroup fundraiser or helps out on the school trip or the young man who cuts his older neighbours grass or collects their newspaper for them. Is this volunteering, is this being neighbourly or is it ‘just what you do’?

All these small acts and larger acts add up to a lot of volunteering in our society. The Charity sector is largely held up by volunteers and the public sector is supported to a greater or lesser degree by the volunteering that exists across these services.

There are staggering figures available detailing the amount of hours given in volunteering, the equivalent in monetary terms and the benefits this brings to our society. I’m not going to go into figures and percentages here. Suffice it to say that it is eye-watering!

Without this level of volunteering activity many services simply would not exist and the value goes way beyond the task, expertise or time donated.

This huge amount of volunteering may appear in various guises, it may not even be called volunteering. You may be a ‘charity champion’, an ‘ambassador’, a ‘helper’, an ‘active citizen’, ‘engaged with a charity’, ‘knowledge or skills sharer’, an ‘unpaid professional’ or ‘just being neighbourly’. You may volunteer as an individual, as a family, as a group or with workplace colleagues.

All of the above is essential and irreplaceable and needs to be acknowledged for what it is. For all the recognisable volunteering being applauded and celebrated by the many organisations during Volunteer’s Week, let’s also acknowledge and thank all those who are contributing to this huge and valueable resource.

Now, let me ask my question again.

Are you a volunteer?

If you are – then thank you.

Morna O’May Volunteer quote