Gary's News and views

Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon

Gary writes a weekly article which appears in the Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge News in South West Devon. The articles are published here.


Thursday, 22 December 2011

Companionship at Christmas. That was the theme of the public awareness campaign under which I was invited to visit the Abbeyfield homes in both Plymstock and Ivybridge in the last few weeks. You might not be familiar with these homes because they are a bit of a best kept secret. The organisation has 700 homes over the country where senior people live in their own rooms but have lunch and tea together in the property every day, thus providing both independence and companionship at the same time. There is a housekeeper and cook to keep their eyes on things and provide some support.
The Abbeyfield Society began in 1956 when a then young Coldstream Guard by the name of Richard Carr-Gomm became concerned by the number of lonely older people he saw in south-east London. This inspired Richard to spend his army gratuity on a house in Bermondsey, and invited four lonely older people to join him. By Christmas 1956, the first Abbeyfield home was up and running. He sounds like a special person.
Judging from the comments of the elderly people I met in both places the concept really works. Many of the residents are in their nineties and still going strong, enjoying life to the full. Not only do they benefit from the friendship, but families get peace of mind as well. I love talking with some of these oldies – they have no inhibitions but say exactly what they mean! One of the ladies in Ivybridge was recounting how she remembered her civil servant father coming home from work in the years leading up to the Great Depression saying he had had his wages cut. This is a generation that has seen it all before.
Loneliness is one of the worst things imaginable. These days we place so much store on material things and less value on more spiritual matters such as friendship. Christmas is a good time of year to reflect on this. It is interesting that the angel proclaimed the good news to a whole bunch of shepherds and even the wise men were travelling as a pack. The historic yuletide intervention was not just to sort out our relationship with God but with each other.
We should not be afraid of designing our society in a way that recognises the deep human need for companionship, not just at Christmas but all year round.
Merry Christmas everyone and a peaceful and friendship-full New Year!

posted by Gary @ 09:36