Drawing people into the circle

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SUFFOLK Circle is aiming to double its membership during May.

The not for profit group for over 50s, started in February 2011, has about 360 members in West Suffolk with the majority in Bury St Edmunds. Its Double Up campaign urges members to do everything from leaving its bookmarks in library books to inviting a friend to an event.

Upcoming events range from a guided tour of Newmarket’s Animal Health Trust to a Thai cookery course, but a major feature of Circle is that some members offer their services as helpers, giving lifts, doing odd jobs and teaching people how to use technology.

Head of membership Finbarr Carter said: “We have four social objectives: people needing friendship, people learning new skills, wanting lifestyle change and people doing things they haven’t done for ages.

“We all want to connect, but we’re not good at it because we’re British. We know it’s good to go for a walk with someone but we feel we’re needy if we call someone.”

All the circle’s helpers are criminal records checked. Members ‘pay’ for their services with tokens at the equivalent of £6 for half an hour’s help and the helpers can ‘spend’ the tokens on events or getting help with things they cannot do themselves.

Janet Young, from Bury, had been widowed for just over two years when she read about Suffolk Circle. She said: “Let’s just say, sandwiches for lunch by myself in front of the TV was getting a bit monotonous. I needed something to get me out and about meeting new people. Although I have friends who I meet regularly outside the Circle, joining it has broadened my horizons massively.

“I used to be a couch potato. Now I am hardly ever in. My children have even noticed the difference.

“I never used to do anything that they had not asked me to or arranged for me. They are over the moon, even though it means granny is no longer always on call for babysitting duties.”

Janet is now a helper, giving lifts and currently teaching an 84-year-old how to shop online with an iPad.

Maureen Reynolds, 79, from Bury, has also benefited from help with technology. Her eldest daughter Karen Hassan has lived in Australia for 10 years. Maureen said: “One of the helpers came to my place and fixed me up with Skype. We’ve had two or three talks since then. I hadn’t seen my grandchildren for five years. My eldest grandchild has just got a degree as a nurse and I saw her in her uniform.”

She has also gone on trips with the Circle and made new friends.

“I’ve had some marvellous days out,” she said.

Ronald Green, a 70-year-old former military man from Bury, has lived alone for 20 years and since joining has gone on pub lunches and a tour of RAF Lakenheath.

He said: “I had not been out for a meal with other people for over 20 years. Getting out, meeting new people, communicating with them, is very enjoyable. It cheers me up.”

Visit www.suffolkcircle.org.uk or call 01284 774880.