A year ago today I sat down in my home office to start a day’s work as I always do but this day was different.  It was my first day with Food Train – new colleagues, new job role, new systems and processes, new laptop, new phone and a new service to launch. At the same time, it was all very familiar – working with a remote team of staff and volunteers to ensure that older people were supported.  

Food Train has been around for over 25 years now, growing to seven branches across Scotland covering nine local authority areas. The branches all provide a supportive shopping service as well as many other services for older people in their areas.   However, there are another 23 areas of Scotland that would benefit from the services that Food Train could offer. The Covid pandemic highlighted this issue further as older people were needing even more support than ever to access grocery shopping. Therefore, the decision was taken to accelerate plans to launch Food Train Connects, a one-to-one shopping service where an older person would be matched with a volunteer local to them who would carry out their grocery shopping for them. This service would be available to anyone over the age of 65 in any part of Scotland where Food Train did not already operate a branch.

At this point I was offered the opportunity to develop, launch and lead this new service. I was thrilled to accept the offer and hence found myself starting a new role a year ago today – and what a year it has been!

The Food Train Connects team has now grown to five staff members, we have 276 volunteers and 110 members, we have delivered 559 grocery shops to older people in 16 local authority areas and made 19,500 minutes of friendship calls.

Of course, all this was happening mid-pandemic so I have yet to meet any of my Food Train colleagues or even my own Connects team. However, we do have some tentative conversation going on at the moment about face to face team meetings which is all quite exciting!  

My year with Food Train has reinforced a couple of things for me. Firstly, that there are many older people in our communities that are just needing a bit of a helping hand, secondly there is an enormous amount of goodwill and volunteering spirit in these communities willing to meet that need.  Our job is to match them up.

As we start to ease out of lockdown and I contemplate my first year with Food Train I see a very bright future for the charity and a huge amount of potential to develop the Connects one to one service in communities all across Scotland and I am delighted to be a part of it.     


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


“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 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