We all need somebody to lean on

21 Dec 2016

We’re in a room in Redbridge Jewish Community Centre. Conversation is noisy and passionate. There’s a lively debate going on. Everyone here seems to know each other really well. But just a few months ago, most of the 30 gentlemen meeting here tonight were total strangers.

Welcome to Chaps that Chat. One of Jewish Care’s supportive communities. It’s a regular get-together for gentlemen of a certain age many of whom live alone.

Ron Weinberg has been a member for a few months now. He first heard about Chaps that Chat from a friend. Since he started coming, Ron’s also brought along three friends of his own. Ron tells us: “It’s nice interacting with the other men. It’s a good laugh and I enjoy the friendly banter!”

Volunteer Sid Green is the co-ordinator of Chaps that Chap; “Jewish Care asked me to help them set up a men’s social group. That’s how Chaps that Chat was born.” Since launching in October 2015, it’s proved a roaring success.

Eighty-five-year-old Sid understands exactly why more people keep coming – and why they keep on coming back: “Chaps that Chat has such a happy atmosphere. The men who come have a wonderful time because it’s brought them all together as friends.

Sid worked very hard to persuade local men to come along and join the group. He phoned everyone he knew and even stopped older men in the street who he thought would like to hear about it. He still does.

But it’s worth the effort, because Chaps that Chat now has 40 people registered with an average of 30 at every meeting. In fact, it’s proved so popular Sid’s even had to start a waiting list and is expanding to set up a second group running on a different day at the Centre. Its success has also spread to North London with Jewish Care recently establishinga Chaps that Chat group in Golders Green with further plans in the pipleline for a second in North London in partnership with Woodside Park Synagogue.

Sid feels the recipe for success for Chaps that Chat is simple: “It makes everyone who attends happy. It’s something we all look forward to every month”.

It’s helping members build lasting friendships too. Three of Sid’s group discovered that they lived in the same block of flats. Now, instead of coming to the group on their own, they travel together as often as they can.

“Some members can’t make it to the groups on their own – we have one gentleman who’s just had heart surgery – but they don’t have to worry, because we’ll pick them up, and take them home too.”

Chaps that Chat go on outings too. “Our first was a very successful trip to the RAF Museum in Hendon The second was to the Imperial War Museum, with ‘chaps’ enjoying a wonderful day out”. Sid tells us: “We’re now planning our next trip and the members can’t wait to get started.”

Fred Praver lost his beloved wife Betty in 2014 after 63 joyful years. He’s a regular at Chaps that Chat and also comes along to a local Jewish Care weekly bereavement group Moving On. He’s made some very good friends: “I really enjoy it. I’ve even met a really nice young lady called Sandra there. We like to go to the cinema together. I don’t know what I would do if it wasn’t for support like this. It really keeps me going.”

Fred isn’t alone in feeling alone. More people are living longer than ever before. And more of us are choosing to live independently in our own homes for longer than ever before too.

But age isn’t the only factor that is putting more people at risk of becoming isolated. Divorce, bereavement and long-term medical conditions see many more of us living on our own. More members of the community are finding themselvesin need of support.

Of course, many people still find that support at Jewish Care’s incredibly popular day centres and community centres, but others really want to find other like-minded people with whom they can share their experiences.

That’s why Jewish Care has developed the supportive communities initiative. We aim to bring like-minded people together in an informal setting in the hope that they will develop real and lasting friendships.

As Neil Taylor, Director of Care and Community Services at Jewish Care says: “We looked at what people across the world were doing to tackle loneliness and isolation. In the end we saw it’s quite simple. We bring groups together who share an interest, organised by volunteers. It usually happens at a tea party, because that helps everyone feel more comfortable.”

The supportive communities initiative goes way beyond the Chaps the Chat groups. There are now more than 20 Jewish Care supportive community groups – the common thread across them all is to establish groups of like minded individuals who have a shared interest. One such group is a classical music appreciation group that meets for tea, cakes and of course – music!

Thanks to the generosity of the members of Chigwell and Hainault Synagogue and their partnership with Six Point Foundation, a team of dedicated volunteers now provide tea parties for holocaust survivors and refugees in Essex. Many of these men and women would find it impossible to make the journey to our Holocaust Survivors’ Centre in Hendon and were at risk of becoming isolated. Volunteers generously throw open their own homes to host the tea parties. They even pick up the survivors and take them home again. This Essex group is one of five groups run by the team at Jewish Care’s Survivors’ Centre.

In addition to the twenty supportive communities Jewish Care also runs a range of specialist support groups for people at different stages of their lives who could benefit from support and sharing their experiences with others, from those living with a disability or life limiting condition to people who are experiencing divorce or bereavement.

Twenty years ago, following a divorce, volunteer Frances Harris established Singular Challenge, a support group for others experiencing relationship breakdown. Now two groups meet regularly in Golders Green. They’re designed to help men and women overcome the trauma of separation.

Co-ordinator Gary Elster says: ”When Frances was going through her own divorce she realised there weren’t any support groups for people in her situation. So she created her own. We’ve been going ever since. We meet every Monday at Michael Sobell JCC, with talks from specialists on every aspect of divorce: emotional, self-development, counselling, alternative therapies and children’s issues. It’s a totally safe environment. And most importantly, it’s completely confidential.”

Jewish Care support the Jewish Bereavement Counselling Service who run a number of support groups for men and women of all ages who have lost a loved one.

There are some times in your life when you really look to your mum and dad for help. When you have a child of your own is one of them. So imagine how you’d feel if you lost one of your parents at that point. Butterflies is a support group for young mums and dads that helps parents of young children to find a space where they can meet and talk with other people who’ve experienced the same loss.

Trisha Curtis from the Jewish Bereavement Counselling Service commented; “We like to think that bereavement only affects older people, but it doesn’t. It can touch people at the start of their lives. Some of them don’t want one-to-one counselling when they are grieving what is often needed is a support network of people who have shared the same experience. Our groups are all facilitated by our experienced counsellors, who encourage everyone to express their feelings.”

Other bereavement support groups include Aftershock – a group for young men and women between 18 and 30 who have lost a parent, groups for those age 40-60 and 60+ who have lost a partner and Nechama, which helps bereaved parents.

Neil Taylor explains: “They say a problem shared is a problem halved. All our support groups are designed to help people understand that whatever they’re experiencing, they are not alone. That goes as much for people who are living with long-term health conditions as well as those who have lost a loved one.

“This can be a very isolating experience, which is why our support groups also help people living with a medical condition to get to know others who are going through the same experience as they are. JEMS – a group for Jewish people who are living with multiple sclerosis is one such community. It’s an absolutely vital lifeline for many members.

“This is just one of the ways that Jewish Care is working to bring people together, and support one another, alongside the professional support we can give them. Without these services many more people would be left feeling isolated and alone.”

If you’d like to find out more, or would be interested in joining one of our supportive communities or support groups– or if you know someone who might – please contact Jewish Care Direct on 020 8922 2222 or email helpline@jcare.org