ISOLATED people from across Blackbird Leys are coming out from behind their front doors to mingle at a new social club to tackle loneliness in the area.

Friendleys meets every week to bring people together for a coffee morning, games and a small raffle.

Liz Helliwell set up the group in April after noticing her elderly neighbours struggled to get out and meet people.

The Kestrel Crescent resident said: “I have known my neighbours for 40 years, and their children have gone away and I was seeing them both say they’d like to get out more.

“One woman used to go round Tesco more than she needed to just for the chance to talk to somebody.”

The group Campaign to End Loneliness has estimated that 10,900 people aged 65 or over in Oxfordshire feel lonely “all or most of the time”.

Friendleys is growing fast, with almost 20 people meeting every Wednesday. Mrs Helliwell said: “It started off with just five people and it’s grown so much. There’s obviously a need for it.

“It means people can mingle and make friends. It’s very easy to become isolated. If something changes they sit at home worrying and it just snowballs to the point where they don’t go outside.

“Now members see one another out in the street and they can have a conversation – the relationship can go on outside of here.”

Mrs Helliwell, 70, has struggled with loneliness herself throughout her life, and said: “When my marriage broke up when I was younger it was very isolating.

“Now, two of my sons, Mark and Michael, have moved away to Sheffield and Stafford, and my other son Stin works nights so it’s difficult for me to visit him. It can be very difficult.”

She said it was important that the group was based in the heart of Blackbird Leys, adding: “Lots of people don’t want to go over to the Clockhouse Project in Greater Leys because it’s not within walking distance for some of these people.

“Lots of the people over there are strangers, but these are people they recognise from these streets, but had never spoken to before.”

One of the group’s first members was Stella Hillier, who said: “I don’t go out a lot and I’m on a mobility scooter so to get to the city centre is a nightmare.

“It’s great that this is so local and I can get here easily.”

The 77-year-old added: “It really makes a difference because it’s something to look forward to.

“We just have a chat about all sorts of different things every week. People say ‘go to bingo’, but at bingo you can’t really talk in the same way and it’s different.”

The Blackbird Leys resident said: “I wish it was on more than once a week, it’s something that’s needed and really benefits people.”

Another member is Mavis Minett, 84, who said: “It’s always nice coming here, and we just get chattering.

“It’s lovely meeting people. Lots of these people I’ve seen around here for years but never said more than good morning to. It’s good for anybody who’s lonely and cut off.”

Friendleys meets every Wednesday, 10.30am-1pm in the Jack Argent Room of the Blackbird Leys Community Centre on Blackbird Leys Road. It charges visitors £2 to cover costs of refreshments and raffle prizes.

  • For more information call Mrs Helliwell on 07810 047819.


Our top stories: