Young people form befriending link with the elderly at Mildenhall care home

YOPEY Befrienders at the Mabbs Hall care home in Mildenhall. Picture CHRIS FELL

YOPEY Befrienders at the Mabbs Hall care home in Mildenhall. Picture CHRIS FELL - Credit: Archant

Residents suffering from dementia at a care home in Mildenhall are set to benefit from weekly contact with sixth formers thanks to a young people’s project.

YOPEY Befrienders at the Mabbs Hall care home in Mildenhall. Picture CHRIS FELL

YOPEY Befrienders at the Mabbs Hall care home in Mildenhall. Picture CHRIS FELL - Credit: Archant

The teenagers at Mildenhall College Academy have been trained to make friends with the elderly people at Mabbs Hall Care Home, in the High Street, after being recruited by YOPEY (Young People of the Year).

Once they have passed checks by the government’s Disclosure and Barring Service, they will go from their MCA6 sixth-form centre in Sheldrick Way to the care home for regular visits.

Most of Mabbs Hall’s 27 residents have dementia, many are lonely and some do not get any visitors.

At the end of their training the 13 16 to 18 year-olds were given “YOPEY Befriender” badges by the charity’s founder, Tony Gearing.


- Credit: Archant

“Having served young people I now want to help young people serve the elderly and possibly create the best intergenerational scheme in the country,” said Mr Gearing.

“The partnership between Mildenhall College Academy’s sixth-form and Mabbs Hall is one of the early steps in what I hope will become a well trodden path between schools and care homes.”

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YOPEY is based in Stradishall and Mr Gearing has previously run Young People of the Year campaigns in Suffolk and other counties.

The charity now focuses on “YOPEY Befriender” and is running a dozen schemes across the country but most are in the East of England which Mr Gearing wants to make the “Beacon for Befriending”.

To the young volunteers from MCA6, Tony said: “It can be quite daunting at first to make conversation with someone with dementia. But following the training and with further support from YOPEY and the care home staff, I am sure the young people will be able to fill the gaps in the hearts of lonely residents.”

At the end of the training, the students paid a first visit to the residents. Some helped put up Christmas decorations while others listened to stories that ranged from heartfelt to hilarious. “The home’s lounge and dining room rang to the sound of laughter and you could also see the odd tear behind held back,” said Mr Gearing.

Carol Cooper, the teacher in charge of pastoral care at MCA6, said: “This is a great scheme that involves our students visiting the elderly residents at Mabbs Hall. The training gave our students confidence for their regular visits. Our students really enjoy chatting to their new friends and already have heard many thought-provoking stories about the past.

“In addition to sitting and chatting the students are also developing their skills such as empathy and communication which will help in their future.”

Angelica Ibayan, the manager of Mabbs Hall, said: “The YOPEY Befriender scheme is a fantastic initiative. It enables young people to come and visit care homes and spend some time with residents. This gives them greater perspectives in understanding elderly care and equally so it brings joy and fun to our residents’ daily activities.

“We’re looking forward to having them come around regularly and be friends to our residents. They will be a breath of fresh air to our care home family and at the same time, we can be their ‘life coaches’ when it comes to their learning.”

The Mildenhall scheme is supported by grants YOPEY won from Tesco’s Bags of Help competitions at its Newmarket and Bury St Edmunds superstores. Mabbs Hall, which is rated Good by the Care Quality Commission, is owned by MNS Care Plc.

YOPEY was last week awarded a £4,000 grant from West Suffolk councils’ Community Chest to start a new YOPEY Befriender scheme in Newmarket, where Mr Gearing has already started to look for a care home and school to pair.

Robin Millar, Cabinet Member for Families and Communities at Forest Heath District Council, said: “Many people in care homes, even if they are visited regularly by their family, may still feel lonely and isolated. The great thing about this YOPEY Befriender scheme is that not only does it help lift some of that feeling of loneliness, which then has a positive impact on health and wellbeing, but it also brings generations together.

“For the older people its shows them that young people are not the national tabloid stereotypical hoodies out to cause trouble and fear, while for the young students, this offers a way into volunteering and with it a chance to bridge the generation gap, to better understand and relate to elderly people, especially those who are living with dementia.”

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