Ten Sudbury sixth-formers are taking part in a befriending scheme in the town that may be an answer to what has been described as “our national shame”.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has blasted British society’s neglect of its elderly and called upon the country to learn from other cultures where the young are better at supporting the old.
The Government minister is going to be invited to visit a trial scheme in Sudbury where the young are supporting the old.
The YOPEY Befriender scheme is being run by the Suffolk-based charity YOPEY that promotes positive behaviour by the young generation. YOPEY stands for Young People of the Year.
Ten Year 12s at Ormiston Sudbury Academy have joined the scheme at Catchpole Nursing Home in Walnut Tree Lane. They have signed up to visit the elderly residents for an hour a week until Christmas 2017 when they will put on an event to say goodbye to the residents before concentrating on their exams.
The 16-17 year-olds will be given training on how to relate to the elderly, including those with different dementia diseases, which cause severe memory loss and challenging behaviour.
Tony Gearing, the founder of YOPEY, which is based in Stradishall, said: “I have been blown away by the Sudbury sixth-formers’ enthusiasm. Befriending an elderly person, particularly one with dementia, is not an easy thing to do. But these young people are determined to give it their best shot. Sudbury should be very proud.”
Sixth-formers from Thomas Gainsborough School in Great Cornard are also due to join the scheme.
Rebecca Meggs, one of the first YOPEY Befrinders, said: “I never dreamed of enjoying myself as much as I did on my first visit.”
The teenager talked to Dorothy Turpin, who is no longer mobile.
“Dorothy showed me games she played that day and was telling me how she couldn’t ever see the television and had to guess which programme the sound was coming from. We both laughed about this for quite a while.
“She also showed me a photograph of her granddaughter and great granddaughter and how they cannot visit. This is going to encourage me to never let her down.
“I found out her favourite biscuits she likes to eat with her tea. I will be bringing a box of biscuits for next week’s visit.
“I told her about my family including my older brother. She told me about her two late brothers and we were discussing how siblings argue, no matter how close they may be.
“I told her about my passion for singing and how I entered the X-Factor. She seemed very impressed and I told her that maybe in visits to come we could perform all the singalong songs. She said how she would join in and enjoy herself.”
Rebecca plans to make a scrapbook about Dorothy’s life story with the help of the resident, the home and her family. This is just one of the many activities and projects YOPEY Befrienders are encouraged to do with the elderly.
Marie Smale, Manager of the nursing home, said: “At Catchpole Court we welcome people coming in from the community to mix with their senior citizens. Our residents were particularly pleased to see young people and are looking forward to meeting them again every week.”
Caroline Wilson, Principal of Ormiston Sudbury Academy, said: “I am delighted that students have engaged in this worthwhile cause supporting members of our community.
“I am proud of their commitment to this venture, it will prove rewarding for everyone involved.”
Head of Sixth Form Paul Stokes said: “It is excellent to see students participating in such a worthwhile volunteering scheme. Volunteering and work experience are vital parts of the sixth-form students’ enrichment programme, one we promote wholeheartedly. I’m pleased to see these students wanting to support their local community.”
While Mr Gearing has been setting up YOPEY Befriender schemes for three years and had no experience of dementia, his mother, who lived at Glemsford, had a major stoke in April and is now being cared for at Catchpole. She is one of the residents taking part in the befriending scheme.
“I suppose this shows that you never know what life has in store for you, and when what you have learned – and I have learned a lot from care homes through setting up these YOPEY Befriender schemes – can come in useful.
“My mum is visited frequently by her grown-up children and grandchildren who live locally, but even she appreciates talking to someone new like the Sudbury sixth-formers.”
More information from yopey.org