Last night I started a volunteer placement at a social club for lonely people, organised by Christian-based charity Archway Foundation. The evening started with tea, coffee, biscuits and chat as people arrived. It was difficult to distinguish between volunteers and ‘friends’ (service-users). Each week some form of entertainment is provided, and last night a guitar/singing duo performed a variety of songs, including the hits of Buddy Holly, Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Simon and Garfunkel. In the latter half of the evening, after the audience had participated by clapping and singing along, chairs were cleared away to make space for dancing. It was amazing to see the difference in people, who previously were struggling to lift a tea-cup, get out of their chairs and move to an old 50’s hit. And the overall lift in atmosphere from the beginning of the evening to the end was palpable.
The people who come to Archway come from a variety of different backgrounds. Some are elderly, some are suffering from mental health problems, or other health problems that prevent them from working. A question I have is how much does loneliness inhibit our actions – are we less likely to get up and dance if we have had limited social contact? And how much does general inhibition stop us from forming strong relationships with one another? The friends at last night’s social clapped, sang and danced, but only when invited to.
And we all finished with the hokey-kokey!