A team of kind-hearted travel agents have pledged their support to a Didsbury charity which tackles loneliness in elderly people, preventing one member from becoming ‘a recluse’.

Didsbury Good Neighbours has been named as the chosen charity for a year-long fundraising drive by staff at Hays Travel in the centre of the village.

Led by manager Rebecca Dodd, the team will now embark on a series of fundraising ventures including cake sales, a raffle and a mystery coach trip to raise money for the charity whose members meet regularly at the Holt Pavilion in Didsbury Park, close by to the shop.

The charity aims to support senior members of the community through a volunteer befriending service and a weekly programme of activities which include organised talks, arts and crafts sessions, evening live music events and a lunch club.

Every year, Hays Travel North West, which is the UK’s fastest growing independent travel agency, asks each of its stores to generate at least £500 for a chosen charity and Rebecca and her colleague Lucy Wilding decided to make a trip to their chosen cause to see the work they do for themselves.

One of the group’s regular attendees Jamie Colclough, 60, of Didsbury told of how the charity had stopped him ‘becoming a recluse’.

Jamie, who was left disabled after he severely broke his legs in a childhood accident when he was hit by a car aged 12, said: “I live with my sister but I am on my own a lot during the day because she is at work. From Monday to Friday, it gets me up and out of the house and I think I would be a bit of a recluse otherwise. I got into a bit of a habit of not going out for a while, I just didn’t feel like I wanted to and the only time I might see someone was if I went to the newsagent for a paper and it doesn’t make you feel too good. I really enjoy coming here because you see familiar faces who have become good friends and I feel like I can just be myself. Without it, I would spend a lot more time on my own.”

Rebecca, 24, who has been in the travel industry for five years, said: “It has been lovely to visit the charity and see for ourselves what they do. Everyone has been so welcoming and friendly. You can see why it is so successful and valued by the people who visit. The charity has a really special feel because it is all about the community of Didsbury rallying round to look after one another and so it seems an ideal cause for our store to support and we are really pleased to do our bit to help.”

Rebecca and Lucy also met 94-year-old Ruth Pons of Heaton Mersey who grew up in Cape Town, South Africa.

Ruth, a founding member of the group, is a grandmother-of-three who travelled to Uganda, Belgium and the Democratic Republic of Congo with her late husband Valdo, a professor of sociology.

Ruth, a former librarian for the School of Nursing at Manchester Royal Infirmary who has lived in the area for close to 60 years, said: “It’s absolutely fantastic and I come every day, there’s something for us every day. If I know I am coming to a coffee morning or one of the other events, then I have got to get up and get myself ready to come so the discipline of it is important. There’s a wonderful atmosphere and it’s very friendly and when new people come, we always try to draw them in. I think I would be in my coffin by now otherwise! There would be nothing to look forward to, day to day. Of course I have my children and grandchildren but if I didn’t come here, then I wouldn’t have a peer group from where I have made good friends and found interesting people to talk to. It is so important to chat with friends and provide a listening ear. Didsbury Good Neighbours provides this every week. Our keep fit group gets me moving, coffee morning keeps me chatting and listening and the craft group suits my creative side. It’s just such a welcoming place to be and I am passionate about the group and just want it to grow and grow and grow. That’s why I am so pleased to hear about the support from Hays Travel because we need funding to make sure everything keeps going.”

Ruth’s friend and fellow member Carol Jay, 76, of Didsbury, a former shorthand typist, who is a published writer, said: “Everybody is so friendly and I really look forward to it. I would recommend it to anyone.”

Eleanor Cribb, Trustee of Didsbury Good Neighbours, also thanked the Hays Travel team for their support.

Eleanor, who has lived in West Didsbury for 25 years and spent most of her career in older people care and housing, said: “I have always loved working with older people and felt I could use my skills to help here. But I have got so much back myself from volunteering for the charity and I think that’s very much the ethos of what we do. The volunteers get as much from it as the older people they help. The charity is needed because I think you can be somebody living at home on your own, you have got everything in the world that you want after a lifetime of working hard for it, you have got a good income and a house but it doesn’t stop you being lonely. Many older people in Didsbury have loving family but they might be living in other parts of the country and not able to visit too regularly and so loneliness can really affect anybody and creep into their lives before they even realise it. Our group is simply here to try and stop that happening and I think we all help one another with that. The money raised from generous businesses like Hays Travel is vital to ensuring we can keep helping people in our community and bringing together people of all different ages and backgrounds to do this.”

To find out more about Didsbury Good Neighbours, go to www.didsburygoodneighbours.org.uk or call 07749 504298.

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