How I grew from overwhelmed volunteer to award-winning manager

Marie Greenhalgh was determined to tackle the loneliness and isolation she saw affecting older people in her local community of Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester. What started as a befriending scheme and a series of social events has now become a fully-fledged award-winning social enterprise, but it wasn't all plain sailing for Marie....

​I was at a bit of a crossroads, feeling a bit overwhelmed by what I had taken on

The challenge

Marie was inspired to do something more to help older people in her community while working for an existing organisation. 'I was getting referrals to my project for lonely people from Wythenshawe, my hometown' says Marie, 'but I was unable to accept them because the funding didn’t allow it.' Feeling increasingly uncomfortable about this, Marie took the brave decision to leave her paid job and set up a project in her neighbourhood.

Initially, Marie coordinated and trained volunteers to visit older people in their homes, befriending them and supporting them with everyday tasks that others may take for granted, such as shopping and cooking. Although Marie was keen to do more.

'I was at a bit of a crossroads, feeling a bit overwhelmed by what I had taken on. However, after attending a Community Camp at the Eden Project, I came back with renewed vigour and got a community coffee morning off the ground in my local pub.'

What Marie did

Thanks to the inspiration provided by Eden Project Communities, Marie was soon organising weekly coffee mornings at the pub, offering the chance for isolated elderly people and their families to come together and socialise. Today they have weekly community lunches at the pub and at a social club. The lunches offer a regular eating out experience for older people, an occasion to meet old friends and make new ones, learn new things like digital skills and find out what's going on locally. They have grown into a community of people that welcome all comers to the lunches and share their memories, stories and anecdotes with each other. 

 “For many older people a key change in their life comes through ill health, immobility, bereavement and retirement and we feel that Wythenshawe Good Neighbours goes some way to help our members extend their friendship group and plan a better future. Many of our older members say that attending the lunches can help them feel more organised and energised to tackle everyday issues.  We feel that helping older people regain confidence to make personal decisions about their health and wellbeing is what we do best.”

2017 will see the roll out of a new social eating scheme, Lone Star Dining. It will provide older people with a network of pubs, cafes, social clubs and restaurants that they can visit on their own. Many older people find dining out a lonely affair; they miss out on the occasion, dressing up, anticipation and the spontaneity of just nipping out for a coffee or a meal. They also miss out on nutritional meals and socialising, things we all take for granted. By enabling older people to dine out with the rest of the community, social eating schemes promote inclusion, belonging and spontaneity in their lives and strengthen older people's social networks.

Impact

In 2014 Marie's project won a Spirit of Manchester Wellbeing Award and in 2015 they were awarded the Best Community Project Award by Wythenshawe Community Housing Trust. In October 2016, Marie was nominated for a Be Proud Award by Manchester City Council for developing Wythenshawe Good Neighbours.

Since then, Marie has successfully applied for funding. She has now established a Community Interest Company — Captain J R Greenhalgh Legacy CIC (named after her father, who was an elderly volunteer in the Wythenshawe community until he passed away in 2008). A team of volunteers continue to work in partnership with local food outlets and community spaces to organise weekly lunches and roll out the new social eating scheme. They also visit the elderly in their homes on evenings and weekends, while constantly engaging the elderly community in order to help govern and steer the project.

Find out more

See what Marie and Wythenshawe Good Neighbours are up to now via their websiteFacebook page and Twitter.