SARAH SINGLETON speaks to a couple on a mission to prevent loneliness among the elderly...with the help of a pot a tea and a tray of cakes

For more than 40 years, Ann Godfrey has helped to tackle the loneliness and isolation suffered by many elderly people.

Many pensioners who live alone might go days without speaking to anyone, and if they have health or mobility problems, they can be effectively trapped at home alone.

Mrs Godfrey, from Royal Wootton Bassett, was a busy parent with young children to take care of when she first heard of the charity Contact the Elderly, and began her four decades’ voluntary work.

“My husband and I moved to Wiltshire, and we used to be involved with the Samaritans, but when our children were young and my husband didn’t get home till late, we couldn’t get to evening shifts.

“A television advert came on about Contact the Elderly. We made enquiries and the nearest group was in Bristol, so they asked if I would like to start a group here,” Mrs Godfrey recalled. That was in 1975 – and her group is still running today.

Contact the Elderly is the only national charity with the sole aim of tackling loneliness and isolation among older people through face to face contact. The charity organises monthly afternoon tea parties for small groups of older people, aged 75 plus, who live alone.

Each group has a coordinator who organises a group of hosts and volunteer drivers. The guests are collected from their home by the same driver each time, and taken to the tea party. The host is different each month, but each member has the same driver so that over time, they become known friends and develop a connection.

The charity was established by Trevor Lyttleton MBE, who met an elderly woman who lived near him in Marylebone in the early 1960s. She had no electricity in her house and lived alone. This meeting inspired him to find other lonely old people, and to invite them to Hampton Court in March 1965. He set up further groups and in September that year, the organisation was granted charitable status.

“There are around 800 groups now,” Mrs Godfrey said. “I organise two groups, one in Royal Wootton Bassett on the first Sunday of the month, and the Swindon Group on the third Sunday of the month.”

The tea parties can be an important event for people who have little contact with family or friends. The volunteer drivers pick up the guests and take them to the tea party, where they meet fellow guests for conversation and a tea of sandwiches and cake.

Mrs Godfrey stressed how important the gatherings could be for some elderly people.

“They may have little or no family. It can be surprising how many people live alone. Sometimes they might have someone who goes in to do the shopping but doesn’t stay to talk, or doesn’t take them out.

“Once I had one of the guests tell me he hadn’t seen the countryside for years – that was one of our Wootton Bassett members.

“It’s such a simple thing but we’ve had so many nice comments from the guests,” she said.

Mrs Godfrey is herself 76 now, but she has no plans to stop her valuable work.

“I still enjoy organising it. I am a born organiser,” she said. “And I am a widow so I can appreciate what it’s like to always be on your own.”

Mrs Godfrey, who has two children and four grandchildren, worked as a medical secretary at Princess Margaret Hospital, Swindon, before retirement and is also busy working with the pastoral team at St Bartholomew’s church.

New guests would be welcome to join the monthly gatherings, and extra volunteer drivers are also needed. Contact Mrs Godfrey on 01793 853236, or send a message to the charity headquarters via the website,