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.     



Well, this certainly hasn’t been the six months that I thought it was going to be.  On 27th April 2020 I sat down in my home office, at the same desk I have sat at for the past 12 years but this wasn’t a usual work day, this was the first day in a new job. I had jumped on board the Food Train with the remit to launch their new service, ‘Connects’.      

It was the height of the Covid 19 pandemic and I had just entered the whirlwind of activity that is Food Train. No face to face introductions with new colleagues, no on-site inductions and no in-person meetings with my new manager. All was virtual but it was a very warm and friendly welcome and I felt at home straight away.  I met all my colleagues in zoom meetings and over Microsoft Teams and six months later have still not met anyone face to face.

Food Train has been supporting older people for over 25 years now, our branches across several local authority areas in Scotland are providing a regular weekly food shopping service plus a variety of other services. Within Food Train there is also Mealmakers and Eat Well Age Well, Mealmakers is a local neighbourhood food-sharing project that connects people who love cooking and an older neighbour who would appreciate a freshly cooked meal and some company. Eat Well Age Well is a national project tackling malnutrition in older people living at home.    

Food Train had plans to develop another new service, ‘Connects’, which would aim to cover all parts of Scotland where we don’t have branches. The plan was to match volunteer shoppers on a one to one basis with an older person in their neighbourhood to do their regular grocery shopping for them.

Then the pandemic struck.

The ‘Connects’ plans were accelerated as the offer of a volunteer Shopping Friend for older people unable to get their own shopping become more important than ever. I joined Food Train at this moment and was tasked with getting this service off the ground.

At the same time a huge operation was happening across Food Train, not only to maintain our vital services but to regularly call all members to check in on them and ensure they were OK.  A massive task involving both staff and volunteers.  Over the months it became clear that these regular calls were highly valued and provided an essential support line for isolated, older people.  It was decided that we would provide a regular phone call service under the ‘Connects’ umbrella and ‘Phone Friends’ was launched.

Six months down the line and although I still feel like the ‘newbie’ I also feel like I’ve been here forever thanks to the welcoming atmosphere at Food Train. The Food Train Connects service is flourishing with both Shopping Friends and Phone Friends attracting a great deal of interest from both volunteers and older people.

The Connects staff team is growing and we are a small but perfectly formed group with great plans for the future of the service – a service which is a vital lifeline for so many older people. Connects not only offers grocery shopping and regular telephone calls but provides a real connection to the community, a friendly face and a blether.

It’s been a quick six months in unusual circumstances but I’m delighted that I have spent it developing and launching such a fantastic service that will benefit so many older people across Scotland.

I’m looking forward to the next six months and more at Food Train Connects.

Morna O’May

Service Manager

Food Train Connects

0800 304 7924



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.

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