A charity has been launched in Bath to bring together youngsters and older people who may not otherwise have the chance to spend time in each other’s company.
The ethos behind ‘GrandFriends: The Company of Elders’ is that many older people are under-used community assets who are needed now more than ever.
The charity intends to rebuild the role of older people as integral and cherished members of neighbourhoods, as was traditional in the past.
The charity trains and supports ‘GrandFriend’ volunteers to give their company to younger people as part of three new programmes, the first being weekly Lunch Time Visits to a primary school in Oldfield Park, which has already proved successful.
The volunteers have the time to play, chat and listen at lunch and in the playground.
GrandFriends has been devised as a response to a set of problems which are contributing to a disconnect between elders and younger people.
Lavinia Thomas Buhagiar, charity founder and director, said: “We hope to address intergenerational loneliness, by rebuilding social connections to benefit everyone who takes part in our programmes.”
The charity was conceived in response to Lavinia’s concern that her own children rarely spent time with people of the grandparent generation because of distance to extended family, combined with a lack of regular local events to bring people of all ages together.
On the other side of this common experience, there are older people who may not have a chance to see family members and other younger people as often as they might like.
In 2018, the Government declared that the UK is in a loneliness health crisis that is affecting people of all ages. 76% of parents and carers reported that since lockdown they have become worried that their children are suffering from loneliness.
As a nation, we are living for longer but for many, retirement comes with the risk of loneliness which can cause damage to mental and physical health.
According to Age UK, half a million older people go at least five days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all, 17% of older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week and 11% are in contact less than once a month.
Oldfield Park is a ‘very high risk’ area for loneliness in people over 65, according to the Loneliness Heat Map.
Meanwhile, primary schools are struggling with a lack of resources, and many families are unable to access pastoral support.
These issues have been made worse by the pandemic and continuing funding cuts to schools and services, and the cost-of-living crisis.
Grandfriends launched in September 2022, and more than 20 volunteers have signed up, aged from 60 to 80 plus, of whom many have completed training and have been active in the first programme: GrandFriends Lunch Time Visits, in partnership with St Johns Catholic Primary School.
Angela Bennet, co-head of St John’s, said: “Friday lunch time used to be a pinch-point but now it is the calmest day of the week and everybody looks forward to The GrandFriends coming in to visit.”
For many children, the GrandFriends are the only elders they see on a regular basis.
As for the GrandFriends themselves, the experience of volunteering has been a boost, and a reminder of the value of older people and how rewarding it is to be needed.
The charity is recruiting more volunteers and staff, and will be trialling two new programmes: the GrandFriends After School Club for children aged between 8 – 11 from all local primary schools, and The GrandFriends Sunday Social, a big lunch for people of all younger ages to come and enjoy the company of elders.
If you or someone you know may be interested in volunteering, get in touch with Lavinia on 07713400071 or email [email protected]
There is no minimum time commitment, references and background checks are administered by the charity, and training is provided.
Grandfriends are elders, of retirement age, who enjoy the company of younger people from all backgrounds.
The charity is also recruiting an additional member of staff to work with the Director to support the volunteers. For a job description and application form, email [email protected].