“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.
Head of Service, Scotland