Tim, our Operations Officer joined the charity in 2013, having worked in other charities for the previous three years. He enjoys managing our volunteers, dealing with the day to day operations of the charity and talking to people.
Tim's own account of one of our recent friendship breaks...
This was my second opportunity to lead a friendship break with the support of my terrific volunteer courier team. Our group was from Hampshire and London and we set down in Eastbourne for a week packed full of great activities.
In the build up to any of our friendship breaks a lot of planning and organising goes on behind the scenes to make sure they are a huge success. I find every break we run seems to get better and better, so the pressure is always on!
The planning starts months before the break takes place. Once we have funding secured, we publicise the break to local organisations, on social media, online and to our users who may be eligible because of where they live and other circumstances.
Once the deadline for applications has passed, we assess each application on merit and offer places to those who reach our criteria - which is based on low income, being alone, living in social housing, personal circumstances and reason for needing a break.
On the break itself and as introduction, we shared something of ourselves through memories revisited sessions when we looked at images from the past. It's amazing to me how our oldest attendees have been through such incredible changes in their lifetimes and have such powerful experiences. They have so much still to offer. I think they sometimes surprise each other too by what they find out in those early sessions.
We had several hobby sharing afternoons. This was a chance for people to bring along their choice of hobbies, interests and skills that they could share with other people. Terry brought along her tarot cards and shared the basics of card reading. For Jackie, making greetings cards is a bit of an obsession, and she was very generous to bring some of her materials to share and make a card from scratch. Others taught and learned new domino and board games, which is always useful to keep the brain ticking over.
We offered an introduction to tai chi - which was really popular - and the wonderful tutor had us all moving around, including some who initially took a back seat! We also invited University of the Third Age to talk about their work and how participants could get involved in their local groups at home. We try to encourage people to use their new found energy and contacts to get out and try something new or join a local activity back at home.
I have to admit that without the superb support of our volunteer couriers, it would be impossible to run our friendship breaks. Some of our volunteers are very experienced and have been with us for many years. It is a really hard-working week for our team and we often think we need a break to recover afterwards! During the week visiting volunteers commented on the really positive group dynamic.
For those attending, we see such an overt change in confidence and mood over the week. More fundamentally, it's obvious the group really appreciates the mutual support and the opportunity to meet people they can relate to and bond with. Many say they feel better able to deal with the challenges of their home life. That's a pretty satisfying result for me!
The only downside to the friendship breaks is when we have to leave. It is however nice to see people exchanging contact details and hugging each other before boarding the coach home. From our own research, we know that these friendship breaks do actually enable older people to make new friends and make changes to their lives when they return home.