Linking Lives Aldridge: Long-lasting Friendships

Aldridge MagazineLinking Lives Aldridge is a new project set up in October 2019 by Aldridge Methodist Church. When the Minister, Bev, arrived in Aldridge at the end of 2011, she very quickly realised that there is a real issue around loneliness and social isolation in the Aldridge community.

“The life expectancy in Aldridge is ten years higher than in other parts of the borough,” says Bev. “A quarter of the population is aged over 65, and almost two thirds of those are living alone. Many older people don’t have family living close by, many have acted as carers for their partners and have become isolated through their caring role, which has resulted in them losing confidence and the ability and opportunity to interact with others.”

Experts agree that social isolation is the biggest challenge facing our ageing society and many older people fear loneliness more than lack of money or deteriorating health.

Research has shown that loneliness and isolation are harmful to our health. The ‘Campaign to End Loneliness’ states that almost a fifth of older people only have contact from their families, friends and neighbours once a week, and for a tenth of older people it is less than once a month. Age UK research showed that for two fifths of older people, the television is their main company. Loneliness has been shown to be as harmful to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and how lonely you are this year will determine how depressed you are next year.

Social isolation and loneliness began to be recognised as an issue across the whole of the borough and towards the end of 2015 Walsall Public Health appointed Angela Aitken as Senior Programme Development and Commissioning Manager with a remit that included older people. Bev met with Angela in October 2015 to share her knowledge about Aldridge. The Health & Wellbeing Strategy of Walsall Council for 2017-20 resulted in the setting up of Making Connection Walsall (MCW). MCW provides older people in Walsall with support to build their social networks and engage in community activities. MCW also provides the health community and social care professionals with a single route of referral into appropriate local community based social support networks.

Aldridge Magazine
Elaine – Linking Lives Aldridge

Bev has been in regular contact with Carol and Mags at the MCW East hub, based at Manor Farm, since it was set up and soon became aware that the referrals coming in showed that there was a great need for a befriending service in Aldridge. Aldridge Methodist Church applied for funding and once that was secured the role of the Project Coordinator was advertised, interviews undertaken, and Elaine was appointed to the role.

Linking Lives Aldridge is a member of the Linking Lives UK network of befriending schemes who work primarily with churches and Christian agencies to provide the support, advice and resources required to set up a project in local communities. Jeremy Sharpe, the National Director, who delivered training to Elaine & the Management Committee, and then to the first volunteers, says: “We are so delighted that Linking Lives Aldridge is now up and running and reaching out to those isolated older people in Aldridge.”

What Linking Lives Aldridge does is exactly what it says on the tin – it links someone who would like to be befriended to a volunteer who would like to befriend. Elaine explains how it works.

“When we receive a referral, I make contact to help to understand the Link Friend’s needs. Our volunteers, who are vetted and trained, are then matched with a Link Friend, considering personality, experience, interests, availability and geography. At an introductory visit, I introduce the volunteer to an assigned Link Friend in the Link Friend’s home. Assuming this meeting goes well, the Link Friend and volunteer will then agree regular ongoing visits. Visits usually happen once a week/fortnight for around an hour or so and it takes the form of informal conversations over a cup of tea/coffee and the aim is for the volunteer to provide crucial support to their Link Friend.”

This has been quite a change in role for Elaine, who was previously a teaching assistant.

“I love stepping into other people’s worlds and finding ways the project can help,” explains Elaine. “I love the job because it’s helping people, but on a personal level it feels really good to know I am doing something that makes a difference to people. Linking Lives is not a team, it’s a family and the partnerships are not clinical; they’re a network of friendships that you know will last a lifetime. That hour a week that the volunteers give makes such a difference to someone who is lonely. I sometimes feel like a teacher standing on a playground watching friendships blossom.”

She goes on to say that parts of the job are ‘gut-wrenching and hard, because when you do step into someone’s world and see the pain and agony they face, it breaks your heart.’

Linking Lives Aldridge has responded to the Covid-19 crisis by changing from face to face befriending to telephone befriending.

“We put an appeal on facebook for volunteers,” says Bev. “Aldridge responded brilliantly, with over 60 people volunteering for telephone befriending and to pick up prescriptions and shopping for people. We are working closely with MCW and receiving referrals from them.”

Linking Lives AldridgeWhen asked for feedback about his Link Friend calls, one of the new volunteers described it as ‘a gift from Covid-19’ and one of the new Link Friends said ‘the phone-calls are the highlight of my week and I feel much brighter afterwards.’

“We couldn’t run the project without our wonderful volunteers,” says Bev.

Her hope is that people the relationships developed between Link Friends and befrienders during this awful covid-19 crisis will be relationships that will be long lasting.

If you would like to know more please get in touch with Elaine or Bev on  07307 865973, or by email on Follow us on facebook @linkinglivesaldridge

Bloxwich Community Partnership Make Me Smile Project

Bloxwich Charity
Make Me Smile Project – Bloxwich Community Partnership

Bloxwich Community Partnership is a local charity based in Bloxwich and Blakenall. We run two community centres, Stan Ball Centre and Palace Play Shop Eat.

Our services changed massively on 23rd March with the closure of our normal activities and the development of the Making Connections Covid 19 Community Response Hub for the North of Walsall.  This service delivered on behalf of Walsall Council now provides vulnerable and isolated people with shopping delivery of basic provisions, fresh meat, fruit, vegetables and cleaning and hygiene products, help with medication and prescriptions, befriending and welfare calls and for those most in need suffering financial hardship free food parcels. To contact this service call the Stan Ball Centre directly on 01922 403351 or email

In addition the ‘Make Me Smile’ project is a partnership working with local primary schools and funded by Big Lottery Community Fund putting together and distributing 300 wellbeing packs.  This project is putting letters, drawings and decorated craft items produced by key worker children in schools together with magazines, adult colouring books, puzzle books and other items to help stimulate, engage and bring a smile to the faces of isolated and vulnerable people.

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Hollie & Chris – Entrepreneurs But At ‘No Charge’ To The NHS …

Pheasey, Advertising, Magazine
Hollie Bonfield & Chris Beddard

A young Pheasey couple have used phenomenal initiative to ‘3D’ create hundreds of face visors for the local NHS and front line workers – completely free of charge.

Hollie Bonfield and Chris Beddard –both aged 24 – so wanted to help around the Covid-19 crisis, they sourced the design for the visors on ‘Thingiverse’ then liaised with the original designer for authorisation to ‘run with it.’

Says Hollie, who works in the finance sector: “We are printing the face visors completely free of charge – funding it ourselves. My partner Chris created the ‘pathways’ to allow it to print via his printer – set up in a spare bedroom. He loves his printer – so much so he jokes that my birthday and Christmas presents will be 3D printed!”

Chris is ‘self taught’ in using the 3D printer, and works in the day as an engineer. He adds: “We are delivering chiefly to Midland hospitals, including Russells Hall, New Cross neonatal, WMP custody nurses, John Taylor Hospice and Heartlands hospital to name a few,  with more orders locally and from around the country still to be processed. Every day, throughout the day, we are continuously printing. Each visor takes half an hour each to print, and in the evenings we set to attaching the visors to the plastic printed head bands. Then we label up to send out. The visor itself is made from binding plastic as used in documents.”

Chris and Hollie say they are ‘going as fast as they can’ and are receiving praise for their work in helping to keep NHS workers as safe as possible. The WMP custody suite they are supplying is in Perry Barr, and they have taken orders for the A and E department at Walsall Manor hospital. Oaks Medical Centre on Shady Lane is using their visors in their ‘amber zone’ to allow face-to-face meetings with patients, which they say is ‘vital to them’.

The couple would like to thank ‘everyone for their support, especially Hollie’s Mum Julie and step-Dad Chris for footing the electricity bill! And add: “It’s really nothing special what we are doing, we’re just trying to help. We are the ones who should be grateful to the front line workers and are hoping this makes a difference.”

Restaurant’s Tasty Gift To Manor Hospital Heroes

Indian restaurant Walsall
Staff At Dera Restaurant Putting Together Their Gift To Manor Hospital Staff

Staff at a Walsall restaurant cooked up a tasty way to thank NHS heroes working on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic – by delivering fresh, tasty curry!

Dera Restaurant, in Caldmore Road, has been serving up Pakistani cuisine for nine years.

Like all restaurants, the impact of the COVID-19 has seen Dera shut its doors to diners, instead switching to a delivery service to provide food for those in lockdown.

But this month it made its most ambitious delivery ever, when it provided 100 meals for staff at the Manor Hospital.

“We have always tried to get involved in charity,” said owner Ahmed Nawaz, “and in the past we have provided food to the homeless, for instance.

“Everyone has seen the work being carried out by the staff in hospitals, and the risks they are taking to treat people with coronavirus, and I felt compelled to do something to say thank you.

“Everyone is taking part in the weekly applause to show support but I wanted to do something different, and I thought: ‘what better way than to provide them with a tasty, fresh dinner to help them recharge after all their hard work.”

So, on April 19, Ahmed and his team set about cooking 100 delicious Chicken biryani dishes, each one lovingly presented in their own box.

“I wanted to make sure that it was not too spicy, so that it was to everybody’s tastes,” he said, “and when I tasted it before we served it up it was perfect.”

The meals were then packaged up and delivered straight to staff at the hospital.

“They went straight there and were piping hot and fresh when we handed them out,” Ahmed said. “The doctors and nurses were incredibly grateful, and I was told later that within half an hour it was all gone – so it must have been popular!”

Now Ahmed is planning to repeat the exercise for the holy month of Ramadan.

“Ramadan is about to start, when Muslims go the whole day without eating, and it dawned on me that if there are staff at the Manor who are fasting then there won’t necessarily be any food available for them when they break their fast.

“After a long and tiring shift, they will need fresh food, so I have been in touch and said that we can arrange to bring in food for people to eat at the time.

“It’s the least we can do given the sacrifices the NHS staff are making. The whole of the Walsall community is pulling together – and this is just our small part of that.”