A brunch club run by community spirited volunteers has thrown a lifeline to pensioners enduring the impact of loneliness during the pandemic.
Some members had not been out socialising for nearly two years before the club re-opened just a few weeks ago.
Now they are loving the chance to catch up with friends and neighbours again while enjoying a hot drink and a plentiful meal at Parkway Community Centre, Rhos-on-Sea.
It has been such a success that the Cartrefi Conwy housing association, which owns the centre, is now looking at the potential to help develop similar clubs in other nearby communities.
Sue Mottram who runs the Parkway club with two friends said they are heartened by the positive feedback they have.
The kind hearted trio do all the shopping, cooking and organisational tasks involved in running the weekly club, held on Wednesday mornings.
They were delighted when they were given the go ahead from Cartrefi Conwy to start using the community centre again in the run up to Christmas.
Even more happy to see the doors re-open was local octogenarian Richard Blackwell, who lives directly across the road from the centre.
Richard, 80, a retired former manager of Pilkington’s glass manufacturers, said the club’s re-opening was a blessing after more than18 months of being tied to the house as a result of the pandemic and national lockdowns.
He said: “I’m not in the best of health and I’m classed in the extremely vulnerable category so going out during the height of the pandemic was not advisable. But even as restrictions eased I found it difficult to go far due to mobility and illness issues.
“I’ve sorely missed this club, so when I heard the doors were opening again I was over the moon. It’s a salvation to people like myself who miss the opportunity to join community events.”
Richard attended the club with his friend and neighbour Lorna Raw, 66, who sat at the opposite end of their table.
Retired secretary Lorna said: “I’m happy to come here with Richard. There’s a lovely friendly atmosphere, the food is beautiful, and we know all essential precautions are taken to make it safe for everyone. What’s more it’s right on our doorstep.”
The club was launched before the pandemic struck and was immediately a hit with local people including Cartrefi Conwy tenants living on Parkway estate.
Originally they welcomed nearly 30 people a session before the pandemic forced the community centre to close.
Now numbers are limited to 20 for the safety of all who attend. Diners are socially distanced with those who do not live together are seated at opposite ends of long tables. The tables are widely spaced apart from each other.
Lila and Henry Montgomery, who have been married 40 years, are both grateful of the chance to interact with fellow community members again.
Lila said: “It’s been a long 18 months. We were very afraid to go out anywhere last year and so we stayed in all the time. We really missed seeing our family and friends. Although we had telephone conversations it wasn’t the same.
“It was only after we had our vaccine jabs that we became more confident and now that we’ve had our boosters too we feel safe to come here.”
The couple were especially glad to see their close friends Beverley Foster and Brian Astle at the club.
Lila said: “It’s so uplifting to be able to chat in person again. We’ve even arranged with Beverley and Brian to have a Christmas meal together at a local hotel.”
Beverley agreed that the brunch club is a boon for pensioners who live alone or don’t get out often.
She said: “It’s so nice to see some familiar faces again and the food is delicious, so fresh and such a good choice. It’s a real treat.”
Visiting the brunch club for the first time since its re-opening were Parkway residents Phil Batty, 84, and his wife Irene Weaver Batty, 79, who were married just 14 months ago.
As a result of lockdowns the pair had to delay their wedding ceremony four times before eventually tying the knot.
Irene said: “Even after we were married had to delay the reception and the honeymoon. But on the upside it meant our celebrations have been stretched out that little bit longer.”
They eventually honeymooned in Blackpool and held a reception at Rhos cricket club.
Irene said: “If we had not got together I know getting through this pandemic would have been doubly hard.”
Phil is well known locally for running a coffee club and a bingo club in Rhos, as well as entertaining at local events with a Punch and Judy show. His son, also called Phil Batty, manages Theatr Colwyn at Colwyn Bay.
He said: “We have been really impressed with the brunch club. We both enjoyed hot bacon baps and tea. The organisers here are doing a great job.”
Cartrefi Conwy’s older people’s engagement officer, Nerys Velduizen, also praised the dedicated volunteers who run the club.
She said: “Sue, Helen and Jo are true heroines. They wanted to do something for the local community and so they set this club up completely from scratch. They do everything from opening the doors and arranging the room to shopping for ingredients, cooking, serving and washing and clearing up.
“The initiative has been a genuine lifeline for elderly community members, so much so that we’re now looking at ways to support them through grant funding.”