Raised voices and raucous laughter show that people who go to CAMEO at St Mary’s, Thatcham, are having a great time. Liz Hudson joined the group to find out about the fun and sense of community CAMEO provides to older people in this part of Berkshire.
C A M E O – Come And Meet Each Other
Do you live alone, bereaved or lonely? Then this is for you.
CAMEO’s aim is to bring together people to chat to each other over a cuppa and cake and have fun.
We meet in the Meeting Room, St Mary’s Church every Monday 2.00pm to 4.00pm.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And in many ways, it is. Started six years ago by Joan Wyndham, a group of four people used one end of the church hall while the sewing group used the other end.
Now the group numbers over 40, only a couple are members of the church, and the Sewing Group meets in the Lady Chapel. “It gets a bit loud in there,” they tell me. And it does. Raucous laughter and raised voices for conversation require the door into the church to be closed. Who knew playing dominoes could be so funny.
The current chair (although she doesn’t like the term) is Teresa. “After I lost my husband I was quite lonely. I needed to be needed, so I decided this was the place to be”. The area which draws people in is mixed housing, with sheltered housing and some residential care but most members are independent and living alone.
For some people, getting to the church can be tricky. There are volunteer drivers who collect people so they’re rarely alone, and all get a very warm welcome at the door. Just getting out of the house can be hard for some. Depression is very common in the elderly community but knowing there will be people to talk to makes all the difference.
Asking what they like to do, I discover they like singing, or they don’t, and games or they don’t, so there’s a great mix of activities. They have quizzes, beetle drives, and occasional speakers, and there’s always tea, cake and a raffle for 50p, with the profits used for annual fish and chips, a cream tea, harvest and Christmas lunches. They also support Mission Direct with baby blankets, clothes and ‘muffs’ for the hands of local people with dementia. Over the years they have ventured into making a calendar (everyone made a hat), Christmas pantos, and Old-Time Music Hall.
Asked what motivated Teresa and Joan, they say: “A lot of elderly folk say they can’t be bothered, or they don’t want to do anything, so we agree to accept them as they as they are and take the time and patience to draw them out. In the end, everyone joins in!”
“She wants them all to know they are cared for, to give them purpose and friendship, and self-respect.”
Teresa says there’s a lot to remember in the organising of each week, and even then there’s a fight over who gets the padded chairs! So why does she do it? She wants them all to know they are cared for, to give them purpose and friendship, and self-respect. “We don’t check up on them but if someone doesn’t come for some reason we take note and gently find out if they’re okay.” The message is clear, it’s an independent friendship group with leaders who feel called to run it, but they are not social services.
Is it a congregation? They do meet ‘just off’ the Parish Church. The Revd Mark Bennett takes a keen interest and had made all the cakes on the day I joined in. There’s no formal worship, or prayers, or talking about God in an organised way, but there are a lot of very happy people who otherwise would have been home alone, feeling loved and cared for.
“It’s wonderful! Very friendly.”
Dorothy is the oldest member at present, she’s 94 but looks and sounds considerably younger. Sitting at a round table with seven ladies and just one gentleman, we discussed what it meant to her. “It’s wonderful! Very friendly. The last thing I will ever give up!” Her friend added “It’s a bit of a laugh, very noisy. There aren’t enough places like this”.
And the venue? “It makes a difference being here in church. And it doesn’t matter who you are.”
Perhaps more churches could try this as well as their baby and toddler groups. But this church does that on a Wednesday. I’ll have to come back.