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Meet the ‘girls on a mission’ to combat loneliness with tea, toast and a natter

PUBLISHED: 09:47 31 March 2018 | UPDATED: 09:47 31 March 2018

Ann Osborn and Sally Connick are hoping to combat loneliness with a Meet up Mondays initiative, which has already taken off at Weavers tea room in Peasenhall. Pictured, l-r, Sally Connick, Sara Benstead and Ann Osborn. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Ann Osborn and Sally Connick are hoping to combat loneliness with a Meet up Mondays initiative, which has already taken off at Weavers tea room in Peasenhall. Pictured, l-r, Sally Connick, Sara Benstead and Ann Osborn. Picture: GREGG BROWN

A rallying call has been issued to take a stand against loneliness and “show Suffolk is a really caring county”.

Beth and Sara Benstead at Weavers tea room have been been hosting MUM sessions since January. Picture: GREGG BROWNBeth and Sara Benstead at Weavers tea room have been been hosting MUM sessions since January. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Suffolk pubs, tearooms and coffee shops are invited to host “Meet Up Mondays” (MUM) for people struggling with isolation to join together in a welcoming environment for tea, toast and social interaction.

MUM began in January at the Alexandra pub in Wimbledon – and now Suffolk organisations are keen to “spread the generosity”.

Ann Osborn, of the Rural Coffee Caravan and Sally Connick, from Community Action Suffolk, are helping venues to host MUM events and hope it will grow into a thriving network throughout the county.

“I was desperate to get this started in Suffolk,” Mrs Osborn said. “We are on organisation that exists to combat loneliness and rural isolation, and Sally’s scheme is all about connecting people and building communities, so it sits perfectly with what we are both doing. We’ve teamed up to be girls on a mission to make this happen across the county.”

Ann Osborn (left) and Sally Connick are offering support to other businesses looking to host MUM events. Picture: GREGG BROWNAnn Osborn (left) and Sally Connick are offering support to other businesses looking to host MUM events. Picture: GREGG BROWN

The idea behind MUM is to give people who may struggle to meet people at least one day each week to get out and socialise.

Studies have shown chronic loneliness is as bad for health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day - and is a growing problem, particularly for older people or those in rural areas. But as more than half of adults say they would struggle to admit to being lonely, it can be difficult to combat.

Mrs Connick says the advantage of MUM is that it provides a “welcoming space” without the need to be label people lonely.

They are held on Mondays because Sundays are said to be the “loneliest day of the week”.

Managers Ashley Coote and Gary Addison of The White Horse Pub Sudbury Suffolk, which will be hosting MUM events from May 7. Picture: JAMES LINSELL-CLARKManagers Ashley Coote and Gary Addison of The White Horse Pub Sudbury Suffolk, which will be hosting MUM events from May 7. Picture: JAMES LINSELL-CLARK

Since the start of their “MUM mission”, Mrs Connick and Mrs Osborn have publicised their plans on social media and approached venues to be hosts.

Weavers tea room in Peasenhall became the first in Suffolk to host a MUM and The Norman Warrior in Lowestoft and The White Horse in Sudbury have both announced dates for their first event.

Mrs Osborn said three more venues were expected to make announcements soon. “It really seems to have struck a chord,” she added. “There is a spreading of generosity and we want to show Suffolk is a really caring county”.

Email sally.connick@communityactionsuffolk.org.uk or ann@ruralcoffeecaravan.org.uk or visit @MeetUpMondays on Facebook to find out more.

Tea room and pubs rally behind simple scheme to create new friendships

Suffolk’s first Meet up Monday (MUM) is said to have gone from strength to strength - creating new friendships, support networks and more.

Sara Benstead, who took over Weavers tea room in Peasenhall in November, was the first to respond to the call-out for MUM venues.

“We’re the pioneers,” she joked.

“The first one was in January and this week was our sixth.

“We’ve had younger mums, older people, home workers and newcomers to the village.

“Now people are bringing along pots of jam, others are making plans to attend summer concerts together and we might get a dog walking group started.”

Ms Benstead said she wanted to support MUM having noticed how difficult it could be for people to make friends in the village.

“This seemed like a good opportunity to get mums, older people, home workers and others to interact a little more,” she added. “It’s termed loneliness, but no one wants to put a badge on it.

“So by coming into the tea room, they could just be any ordinary customer, there’s no stigma to it, it’s neutral ground, people can just come and chat or just sit in the corner if that’s what they want to do.”

Ms Benstead provides the tea and toast for free, so money is no obstacle to attending, though some offer donations.

Shaun Waters, owner of the Norman Warrior pub in Lowestoft, which will be hosting its event on April 30, said it sounded like a “great idea”.

“I strongly believe in pubs being the centre of the community,” he added. “And for some of our customers, particularly elderly ones, we can be the only people they see during the day. Now we’ve got a definite day of the week when they can pop in, hopefully it will lead to some new friendships begin struck up.”

Mr Waters said his Facebook post advertising the first MUM had already been viewed 23,000 times with more than 300 shares.

The response has been similarly supportive at The White House in Sudbury, which is hosting its first MUM on May 7. “It’s such a simple thing but it’s a way of giving back to our local community, “said manager Gary Addison. “We posted about it on Tuesday and within 12 hours we had 2,000 tweets and 3,000 views on Facebook.”

To find out more contact the venues on 01728 660548 (Weavers) 01502 561982 (Norman Warrior) or 01787 374321 (White Horse).

‘A lot more talking, a lot more smiling and a much greater sense of belonging’

An enthusiastic Meet up Mondays attendee has said it changed his life for the better.

Mark Bing, who moved to Peasenhall from London last year, said he found it difficult to meet new people as he worked from home.

He said he recognised how important it was not to “lock myself away” and MUM had been the perfect outlet.

“You come in lonely once, but when you leave you then know 10 people,” he added.

“You can meet and greet people when you see them in the street, which is the most valuable thing.

“Now there’s a lot more talking, a lot more smiling and a much greater sense of belonging.

“Coming from London, I assumed, rightly or wrongly, that a village would have a much stronger sense of community but the question was, how do you break into that community, that was my problem.

“With MUM, it’s been really easy and it’s been invaluable in that respect.”

Facts about loneliness

Studies into loneliness have claimed it to be “one of the largest health concerns” people face – and is expected to affect growing numbers in the years to come.

The Campaign to End Loneliness has published research showing loneliness can be as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes, worse than obesity and more likely to lead to dementia and heart disease.

Loneliness is said to increase a person’s risk of death by 29%, it claims,

More than a million older people are said to suffer from chronic loneliness, while half a million go at least five or six days a week without seeing anyone, according to an Age UK report.

However, a study by The Co-op and British Red Cross has shown that it is not just older people affected by loneliness - nine million adults of all ages are either always or often lonely.

And a survey by Action for Children found that 43% of 17-25 year olds who used its service had experienced problems with loneliness.

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