Fifty years of volunteering with Contact the Elderly

Posted on the 7th June 2018

I first found out about the work of Contact the Elderly in 1965 from New Society magazine.

The magazine ran an article about Contact the Elderly’s founder, Trevor Lyttleton, explaining how he and his friends had started a group in Paddington with the simple idea of taking older people who felt isolated from their community out for tea once a month. I’d been interested in volunteering for a while, and thought this seemed right up my street as I enjoyed the company of older people, and loved baking cakes!

Picture of Contact the Elderly Tea party

I hosted my first tea party at my parents’ house in Harrow.

It was so rewarding to see just how much the older people we welcomed appreciated our small act of kindness.

I decided this was something I wanted to continue doing, and so kept on volunteering for the charity as a host, driver and group coordinator… and here I am almost 53 years later!

It’s been exciting watching Contact the Elderly grow into a national charity, working with a network of 11,000 volunteers to support over 6,100 older people. Contact the Elderly has retained the same simple but effective idea of monthly tea parties. The charity has always been a community led organisation which relies on volunteers. It empowers communities to care for their own.

Despite its growth, the charity’s tea parties in my experience have remained largely the same – happy get-togethers providing friendship, companionship, tea and delicious cakes (which now aren’t always home-made like they used to be).

I know my volunteering with Contact the Elderly has helped enrich the lives of many socially isolated older people, and it's given me much pleasure as well.

Picture of Contact the Elderly Tea Party

I’ve met many interesting people, and spent countless happy afternoons drinking tea, eating cakes and talking to both older guests and my fellow volunteers. I’ve heard some very interesting stories from a world that’s slowly disappearing, and connected with people from all walks of life who come together because we all want to make a positive difference to the lives of others.

Picture of Contact the Elderly Tea Party

With social services so stretched these days, and ever-increasing numbers of older people living isolated lives, I think Contact the Elderly’s volunteer driven, community based work is more important than ever. Personal contact from someone who isn’t getting paid to be there makes such a difference to the lives of the older people Contact the Elderly works with.  They know that volunteers want to spend time with them, rather than feeling that they are there because it’s their job.

I know that I've gained as much as I have given in my years of volunteering with Contact the Elderly. It’s been an amazing journey, and one which I wouldn’t change for the world.

Sheila Glazebrook

Sheila has volunteered for Contact the Elderly for 53 years, in London and Oxford as volunteer host, driver and group coordinator.

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