Redbridge Supportive Communities Tea Parties win Mayor’s Award

17 Sep 2020

Photo: Taken in 2019 of  Volunteer Coordinator Valerie Marks with Alf Collis, celebrating his 100 birthday at Redbridge Supportive Communities Tea Parties in 2019

Jewish Care’s Redbridge Supportive Communities Tea Parties celebrated at the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah Zoom with honey cake this week when they heard that the volunteers had won the Caring For Others Award in this year’s Redbridge Mayor's Community Awards.

Redbridge Tea Parties have been running for six years, these are for isolated, older members of the community, offering the opportunity to socialise, make friends and feel part of the community.  This proactive group of volunteer coordinators, hosts and drivers they have remained committed – often going above and beyond, always happy to help.  Visiting guests who are unwell and helping in other ways if needed.   

Before Covid-19, the monthly gatherings were hosted by volunteers in their living room, providing an opportunity for local people to connect with others at tea parties.

Now that the volunteers can’t host their guests, the tea parties take place on Zoom and the hosts send cake to their guests on special occasions like Jewish Care's Great Jewish Bake Day and Rosh Hashanah, through volunteer delivery drivers who drop by with cake to say hello. The hosts and drivers also call the clients every week, if not more to check if there’s anything they need, in between Zoom Tea Parties so that they feel connected and supported. Since the tea parties began in 2011 there were nine groups and this has now expanded to 22 across London.

Jewish Care’s Head of Community Engagement & Volunteers, Richard Shone, says, “I’d like to wish this fantastic group of volunteers congratulations on receiving this award. The Supportive Communities Tea Parties bring people together in a natural way in a comfortable and safe environment and our volunteers have been incredible by opening their homes and being hosts, as have the drivers, in creating friendships with the guests and making sure they are able to socialise. The parties are reaching a large number of clients and I congratulate the small army of volunteers who are making sure that these parties continue to happen in such a lovely and Covid-safe way.

“The telephone calls and contact that the clients receive from our volunteers can sometimes be the only time they speak to people, either once a week or once a month and the last few months have highlighted how important it is for people in our community to stay connected.”

Jewish Care’s Redbridge Supportive Communities coordinator, Valerie Marks, who has been organising the Redbridge tea parties with Sally Caplan, says, “It’s something that all the volunteers love doing. We meet such lovely guests and it gives us a lot of enjoyment. Although we can’t get in touch in person at the moment we are all calling once a week, if not more, to check our tea party guests are ok and if there’s anything they need that Jewish Care can support them with and to make sure they know that that they’re not forgotten.”

Sally Caplan adds, “The things I’ve missed most is having people in the house, putting nice things out for the teas and sharing nice cakes but we’re still baking for the Zoom Tea Parties. Everyone we’ve met from the clients to the other volunteers and drivers are all lovely people and it’s a pleasure and privilege to do this. We really enjoy it.”

Tea party guests were delighted to hear the good news. Hazel Isaacs, who has been coming to the tea party for about a year, commented on the Zoom yesterday, that “All the volunteers are fantastic and they all give 100 percent and they are all brilliant.” Shirley Greenbaum agrees, “When I was more mobile I also volunteered and did things for the synagogue and all of our sudden I wasn’t able to do that anymore. So, it really is appreciated and I’d like to say thank you to all of our volunteers.”

Doris Collier adds, “I enjoy going to the tea parties and the volunteers are absolutely wonderful. It’s a very nice thing that you do.

Volunteer driver, Janet Best, also commented on the Zoom, “It is an absolutely pleasure and honour to do it because everyone is so lovely. It’s so nice to do something for somebody else.”

Jewish Care’s Alison Smardina,  Supportive Communities & Befriending Officer, adds, “I’m so proud of our volunteers who really deserve this award, the tea parties would not take place without them. Before lockdown, coordinators worked tirelessly, ensuring hosts are appointed, drivers allocated, and guests invited, they regularly spoke to guests ensuring they could attend the teas and had transport.  These calls are not just a five-minute conversation more often a longer chat and catch up.

“Since lockdown, the volunteers have shown they really can keep going the extra mile. Guests who enjoyed being in such a warm friendly environment have been able to see each other virtually and the drivers and hosts have got to know each other very well, so that our guests have a sense of friendship and community. I always know the guests are really looked after and our volunteers are in touch with them. It’s not just a chat and making contact but also if they are feeling down, they know they are able to reach out. If they need anything, Jewish Care are there to support older people in our community.”