St Mark’s Lunch & Friendship club during the Coronavirus pandemic

St Marks Lunch & Friendship Club

What we are doing in the Coronavirus pandemic.

Even before Monday 16 March 2020, some members had already rung in to say that they would not be coming to club on the Wednesday following. It was becoming clear to the helpers that a decision had to be taken. We did not really know what we were up against, nor how anything would develop. Twelve of the helpers met at St Mark’s that Monday. The question before us was, do we close the club NOW, or do we make plans for the time when we are compelled to close the club.

We were really concerned about the effect of Coronavirus on a group as vulnerable as ours, in which the age of a good number of the helpers as well as members is over 70.  We concluded that we should close the club from that moment on.  All members were informed before the day was out. They had surely seen and heard the national and world news, and would be beginning to think how it could affect them individually.

Everyone in the Lunch Club has a telephone. Helpers were deputed to ring  members, to let them know the news. There was a general expression of sadness at the decision to close, but it had to happen, and everyone understood why.

Thus began regular telephone contact between individuals, which has continued up to the time of writing. We have become accustomed to long conversations, brief conversations and everything in between, with a lot of discussion, opinions aired, expressions of joy and frustration at the rules as they have been issued. Some restrictions have caused confusion. Everyone had their own ways of getting on with life in lockdown, and for some people, of course, especially those living on their own with mobility problems, this new life was not so different from the former one. But they do miss the chance that the Lunch Club gave them to get out, meet friends, have a good meal and enjoy some entertainment. It was often their only outing of the week.

To provide something tangible which could be read and re-read, a newsletter was born, to keep everyone in touch. It is called “Lets Connect” and the current edition is number 6. Present circulation is 62 and growing. It always gives a couple of useful telephone numbers on page 1: for Claire Brooks, and for the Town Hall emergency number, for ready reference. There follow all sorts of contributions, mostly from the helpers, but occasionally from the members. We have poems, puzzles, accounts of happenings during lockdown, where I was on VE day, Mabel and Dog, funny stories, riddles and sayings – anything to make people smile. There have been five different Editors for “Let’s Connect” so far, helpers who have volunteered to produce an issue and to collect items either by post, telephone or email. Most members are not on the Internet, but, after a bit of asking around, it has been found that they have relatives who are, the latter willing to print off the newsletter and deliver it with the shopping! Those members who are on the Internet and can cope with attachments, do so. Those who are not linked in either way get their copy by post or by hand.

How many issues do I expect “Let’s Connect” to run to? The question, like the future of Lunch Clubs, is one which I simply cannot answer. Here we are, in this current phase, mostly being cautious because we are clinically vulnerable (or, clinically extremely vulnerable). As we look at a relaxation of lockdown, there is a variety of opinion about how soon to do what safely.

Given a virus that is spread from person to person, at close quarters, particularly in enclosed spaces, and can lead to serious illness and even death, mostly among the elderly population and those with underlying health problems, we in the Lunch Club are probably among those least likely to be in a hurry to get back to anything we could recognise as “normality”. The future is uncertain.

Rosalind Rogerson

Our thanks to Rosalind and her team of helpers as they continue to support members of St Mark’s Lunch and Friendship Club. Social isolation and loneliness add to health risks for vulnerable people so the interventions of telephone contact and the newsletter “Let’s connect” create alternative opportunities for interaction and are the next best thing to help maintain social connectedness until it is safe enough to physically meet once again.

Shan and the Clergy and Pastoral Care Team

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