By Wendy Pfeiffer, Inspired Friendships Manager
Friendship by its definition is the enduring affection, esteem, intimacy and trust between people, good friendships are important and those bonds between our friends can last a lifetime. For many people as they get older, friendships can be a vital source of company and love.
Inspired Villages understands the importance and positive impact of nurturing friendships in later life, and with our purpose to help people live ‘the best years of your life’, we do everything we can to achieve this for our residents and wider communities.
To share a little history of how we got here, Inspired Friendships was born in August 2020, the vision of our CEO, Jamie Bunce, after Diane Bromley and I were made redundant from our roles running a local community befriending service for one of the UK’s largest later living charities. Just two years previously Inspired Villages had arrived in Leeds Village, just outside Maidstone to commence building on their latest retirement village Ledian Gardens. During the months that followed, we met Jamie and he watched with interest the impact the befriending service had within the local community.
Just six weeks after our redundancy, Diane and I were taken on as Inspired’s first Friendship Managers to extend our tried and tested befriending service to Inspired residents and local communities alike.
We are forever grateful for the vision Jamie had, not just for ourselves but on behalf of the many older people who are part of the family we now call Inspired Friendships, and the impact this service has on their lives. Tackling loneliness and isolation is key to everything that Inspired Friendships is about, it is an integral part of our journey going forward.
To celebrate Befriending Week 2023, we wanted to shine a light on some of the people we have the pleasure to call an Inspired Friend and the partners who share our passion for combatting loneliness and making people’s later years, the best of their lives.
So first, meet Brian. A volunteer at Mote Park for many years he has a wealth of knowledge about the history of this beautiful park. Brian has been organising monthly Fitness Walks for Inspired Friendships for the last year. Each month he conveys little snippets of fascinating facts whilst at the same time, ensuring everyone keeps moving. Brian manages the various fitness levels of residents and Friends aged between 60 to 94. Thank you, Brian, for your passion and leadership!
The next individual is Abby Wincel, the founder of ‘Wishing Hearts’, who Inspired Friendships have been working with for almost two years now. Abby is an absolute inspiration, and her enthusiasm and energy is on another level. At the age of just 21, Abby founded her own charity Wishing Hearts, granting wishes for older people. Wishing Hearts and Inspired Friendships have a fantastic partnership arranging days out together and we recently enabled one of her 88 year-old companions to have his wish come true. His wish was simply to visit the seaside, something he had not done since he lost his wife over 8 years ago.
Another cause we'd like to acknowledge is the Care UK Invicta Court Care Home. Since 2020 we have worked together and this partnership has proved to be one of the most rewarding.
Inspired Friendships was created in the pandemic and during lockdown Jaime Jukes Customer Care Manager of Invicta Court, arranged for their wonderful chefs to bake regular supplies of brownies to be dropped off to our friendship group. It is so often the little gestures that can make a whole world of difference to our members, especially to those living alone.
Fast forward three years to January 2023 and ‘Coffee Mates’ began as a pilot to give members somewhere to meet in small groups during the bleak winter months. Jaime stepped in again, Home Manager, Sara Catarina Barbosa sharing the great work we do and as a result many of their residents joined Inspired Friendships. The Coffee Mates pilot proved so popular that we have continued this very special group meet-up and will be doing so into 2024 and beyond. At Inspired Friendships, our key focus is in-person meet ups. These are often the most effective way to reduce loneliness and isolation. However, we also recognise it’s 2023 and the benefit of technology in helping older generations stay connected shouldn’t be underestimated or ignored. We know for many older people, anything IT related can seem like an alien world so when Digital Kent first contacted us to see what they could do to help, invited them along to some group chats to provide a helping hand.
Prior to event, many did not own a smart phone and if they did, had never utilised apps to their advantage. Since then, we have formed an active WhatsApp group, enabling easier contact with our members. We even received an award for championing technology!
We didn’t stop there. Seeing the benefit this had on our members, we knew we could do more and when we heard about the Carephone project with Alcove, we jumped at the chance to get involved. Inspired Friends who went on to utilise the service were blown away when they realised that they could not only speak to but see their family at the mere touch of a button! Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
Something else we love at Inspired Friendships is food, so it would be remiss of me not to give a shout out to some small businesses that not only welcome us with open arms for meet-ups, but supply amazing culinary delights too! Frederic’s Bistro in Market Buildings, Maidstone, is where the group ‘Freddies Friends’ meets once a month. The first ‘meet- up’ there was just once month before we went into lockdown. Since coming out the other side of the pandemic, Frederics was one of the very first meeting points where we were able to meet up again together and we have been doing so once a month since then.
Next up is ‘The Early Bird’, where Andreea and her team in Grove Green, Maidstone are simply amazing. They open their doors to our 'Chattering Chums' every month, offering us a morning of refreshments and a time to be together. Our mornings are a mixture of a lot of chatting, much laughter and celebrating friendships both old and new. A final thanks to our local Hollywood Bowl for allowing us to occupy the four VIP lanes and have a bowl and some laughs.
Next is one of our most successful and impactful partnerships to date - the Friendship Bus. We started working with Arriva UK and Stagecoach earlier this year and in that time, we have organised ten Friendship Bus trips each with approximately 25 passengers, enabling 250 older people to experience the joy of travel and companionship. In simple terms, the Friendship Bus offers people the opportunity to take part in bus travel in a safe and friendly environment, not having to worry about times, routes, as this is all arranged for them!
The project has been hugely popular and is fully inclusive for everyone, this is due to the ongoing support from Christian Obray (Arriva) and Natasha Vignon (Stagecoach) who are simply amazing in bringing it all together on the day. Di and I want to thank all those involved in helping us deliver this valuable community service.
So that’s a wrap on all those that help make Inspired Friendships what it is today. Although I mentioned him at the start, none of this would be possible without the support and belief of Jamie in us and this initiative, enabling it to keep going and growing. Thank you from each and every Inspired Friend - past, present and future.
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