Old age can be isolating and having nobody to talk to can heighten that loneliness, particularly where bereavement and ill-health are also factors. And the problem can be more acute among men, who are often uncomfortable about showing their feelings.
But Jewish Care’s men-only conversation groups are turning the tide.
Chaps That Chat came about with the help of Sid Green, an octogenerian volunteer at the charity’s Sinclair House in Redbridge. His group meets for discussions, socialising and outings.
Mr Green made it his mission to drum up interest, phoning everyone he knew, even stopping people in the street. Such has been the demand that a second Redbridge group is opening.
“Most of them were strangers before they met here,” Mr Green said. “Some of them have become so friendly that they meet up outside of the group”.
Other Redbridge regulars include Ron Weinberg, who said: “I used to joke about how much my wife talked. I never knew how much I’d miss it.
“I love it. I go every month. Otherwise you’re all alone. I enjoy debating about any subject. It’s not too serious and it’s nice interacting with the other men.
“It’s a good laugh and I enjoy the friendly banter.”
Although all participants are retired, the age range is wide — from mid-60s to early 90s. The success of Redbridge has spawned the roll-out of groups in Harlow, Golders Green and Woodside Park.
Simon Sackman is the facilitator at the Selig Court group in Golders Green, which meets on the first Tuesday of the month.
The retired solicitor said members “have tea and cake and talk about anything from politics, sport, current affairs and holidays. They share stories from their lives and get to know each other. This is where friendships begin.”
Alison Smardina, Jewish Care’s supportive communities officer, said: “It’s just a few hours per month but it’s a lifeline to the people who come.” The phone call inviting them to attend may “be the only time the phone rings”.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org