International Friendship Day

To celebrate International Friendship Day, Inspired talked to six residents at Millbrook Village, in Exeter, to hear how their friendships at the village have helped them throughout lockdown, kept them active and provided lots of laughter and support.

Jacqui Gratwicke, 78, and her husband Eddie, 79, moved to Millbrook Village in September 2019 after spending 16 years living ‘out in the sticks’ on a ranch in California. They arranged to visit Millbrook and knew immediately it was perfect for them. Jacqui says: “It was what we were looking for. Having lived on a ranch, stuck in the middle of nowhere, we’d become a bit insular, so we wanted to meet and see people.”

Jacqui and Eddie met fellow Millbrook residents, Jill and Steve Stevens and Jenny and Alan Skinner, at a social evening organised by the village staff. “We got talking and the six of us hit it off,” says Jacqui. “They’re lovely, lovely people and the six of us gelled.”

Jacqui praised the Millbrook team for supporting the friends through the coronavirus pandemic. “The village team fixed up a small putting green for us to use, which is one of the activities the six of us enjoy.”

Fellow residents, Jill Stevens, 85, and her husband Steve, 90, moved into a three-bedroom bungalow in Millbrook Village around 18 months ago. Their strong friendship group has proved invaluable, especially when Steve fell ill in the spring.

Jill says: “Steve spent a fortnight in hospital in May because of a bug in his blood, and afterwards we were locked down for two weeks. During that time, our friends would bring chairs and sit outside our bungalow, so we could have ‘socially distanced’ chats. Steve is a lot better now.”

The couple became friends with Jenny and Alan Skinner, and later Jacqui and Eddie Gratwicke. Jill says: “The six of us get on really, really well and we have a lot of laughs together.”

The six meet up every week to go putting or for a walk and can easily while away an afternoon chatting and laughing over coffee or a few drinks. Before the lockdown, they were regulars at the theme nights the staff put on in the restaurant.

Jills says: “We’ve been able to carry on socialising since we came to Millbrook. We’re loving it. Plus, there are the lovely grounds, nice walks, and it’s easy to jump on a bus to go to the beach or the city centre.”

Jenny Skinner, 67, and her husband Alan, 79, moved to Millbrook Village in March 2019 and Jenny first met Jill and Steve Stevens when she was volunteering for the village’s hospital car service. Then, later, the friendship group expanded to the six.

“Jill and Steve needed to be taken somewhere, so I drove them,” she says. “They’re such lovely people and we started getting together for social events in the restaurant, including a French evening. That was the beginning of our friendship, and it was at one of these evenings that we met Jacqui and Eddie. They came in, looking a little lost, so I invited them over – and that was it.”

When Steve became ill, Jenny, Alan, Jacqui and Eddie joined forces to keep Jill’s spirits up with regular phone calls and ‘socially distanced’ chats outside Steve and Jill’s bungalow. “Being able to do this has helped us all,” says Jenny.

For the six friends, the pandemic has brought them closer together. “Covid-19 has made us get to know each other quicker,” explains Jenny. “Before the ‘new normal’, we would probably have all been doing different things, like going on holiday and having more visitors. We’ve relied on each other through this and we’ve probably become closer than we would have done in normal circumstances.

“Friendship is really important; everybody needs friends. I’ve never had a big family, so I’ve always had to make friends. I’m a people person.”

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