HILS’ Jubilee Centre is beating loneliness one meal at a time: Meet great friends Dorothy and Betty* who connected over coffee at our drop-in lunch club!

84-year old Dorothy has lived in St Albans all her life. She first started going to the Jubilee Centre restaurant with her husband back in 1994, and now has lunch in the restaurant every weekday throughout the year.

‘I like that we all get to socialise and it’s nice not having to cook’, says Dorothy. ‘I highly recommend coming along!’

Two years ago Dorothy met 75-year old Betty, a newcomer to the lunch club, and the pair struck up a friendship, regularly meeting for a cuppa and a chat. Betty had moved to St Albans from Glasgow over 40 years ago and was caring for her husband who attended HILS’ Kingfisher dementia fun club, which is also held at the Jubilee Centre.

‘It seemed like such a warm, lovely place’, says Betty. ‘So I asked the staff if there were any other clubs for people without dementia – which is how I found out about the drop-in restaurant.’

Both Dorothy’s and Betty’s husbands have since sadly passed away and their families are not local. For them, the restaurant has become a safe haven. It is a place where they come for a bit of company, good food, and a laugh with friends – but also get help and support when they need it. In fact, when Dorothy needed to move house, Jubilee Centre staff helped her with the move, and the centre caretaker even mended Betty’s television.

‘When I found out how friendly everyone was I started coming here twice a week. The restaurant doesn’t close over August like everywhere else’, says Betty. ‘It’s lovely to know that the staff are here to support you, and the meals are there if you need them. I can talk to any of the staff about any problems I have and they are always willing to help.’

Dorothy agrees, ‘I wish more people realised what you can get out of it.’

Dorothy and Betty have become an important part of the community at the Jubilee Centre. ‘We never miss an event!’ says Betty. ‘We went to the wine and cheese night together and chatted to the Friends of the Jubilee Centre. They have done some great work – we love the new colourful flowerpots out the front.’

Their most recent event was a trip to Hatfield House for the lunch club’s annual outing. Betty was keen to see the gardens but couldn’t walk very far, so a member of staff drove her and her friends around in a golf cart. ‘I was delighted’, says Betty. ‘The weather was beautiful and it was a great day out!’ Upon returning to the Jubilee Centre, the group enjoyed a delicious spread of sandwiches, snacks and buns.

Having both experienced loneliness themselves, Dorothy and Betty are advocates for bringing older people together. They have volunteered to take part in a new project called Connecting Conversations, run in partnership with the County Council. As part of this programme, Dorothy and Betty have completed leadership training and will be using this, along with their personal experiences and insights, to help shape services for other older people living in the community across Hertfordshire.

‘It sounded like a great project to get involved in, says Dorothy. ‘Too many older people suffer from isolation and loneliness.’

For more information about this project, or anything else mentioned in the article, please contact us on comms@hertsindependentliving.org and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

*pseudonyms