The Evolution of Whittington Men’s Lunch Group
The Evolution of Whittington Men’s Lunch Group
Like all communities, Whittington has its fair share of compassionate individuals, but they don’t always have the opportunity to blossom. Sometimes when people recognise a clear need they do respond. This was the case when the local vicar, Rev Paul Bothwell, talked about the need for a hospice in the area and people responded. Influential people in the Community joined him and helped develop the idea and market it throughout the Community. Many joined the crusade and helped to fundraise and once our incredible hospice was completed, most went on to become volunteers and many from the village and elsewhere still do.
One of those initial key influencers who went on to become one of the original trustees and then a long serving volunteer was ‘Fairy’ Gopsill. I met Fairy in the early 90’s and we soon became good friends despite our significant differences, he was 6ft plus and I am 5’4”, he was a Lt Colonel in the Gurkha regiment and an expert in Jungle Warfare, and I got thrown out of the school cadets. When we first met, I had recently returned from studying on an international programme at MIT in Boston. Whilst there I spent a lot of time exploring why some Companies were successful and others not, especially by the impact of different leadership styles. Back home I was often made to feel uncomfortable because my style was so different to many others that I worked with, but I was pleased to find on the programme that there were quite a few who behaved like me. I was even more pleased to see that some of the most successful international companies were run by people who had characteristics in their style like mine. It was even more surprising that back home I should meet somebody who had operated in a totally different environment to me but had the same basic beliefs about leadership as I did, and he even played a role in leadership development at Sandhurst. Maybe in the current context we would refer to it as compassionate leadership.
Chatting one day we discovered that we were both visiting two vulnerable guys in the village and ‘Fairy’ suggested that we should have a regular monthly lunch with them. We asked two more to join us and a lady in the village cooked a super two course meal for us followed by cheese and biscuits and coffee and I brought a bottle of wine. Over the next few months several more men joined us, and Fairy asked me to write our ‘Mission’.
The Whittington Men’s Lunch Group was formed in November 1999 specifically for men from within the community who, for a variety of reasons – such as disability, loss of employment or retirement – missed men’s company. The Group aims to provide friendship and mutual support or practical help when needed.
Clearly there will always be a need for a strong contingent of fit, retired men within the Group who would welcome the opportunity to help provide that practical help and support that others might need, whilst at the same time enjoying socializing with male company over lunch.
This mission is at the top of all our circulars updating members of any changes in membership, contact details and lunch dates. It informs new members what we are all about and reminds existing members.
At the same time ‘Fairy’ wrote a short prayer:
Lord, thank you for our friendship and food today, and for those who prepared it.
Help us not to feel bitter and prejudiced in difficult times or to take things for granted and remind us always of our responsibility to care for those who need it.
Sadly, Fairy is no longer with us but his legacy lives on. In the 22 years since we started, we have started opened every meeting with this prayer even though only a very small percentage of the group attend Church regularly.
The simple formula for the lunch has always remained the same which we believe is one of the reasons for our ongoing success. We meet at the bar in the Church Hall and have up to 30min chat over a glass of wine or beer; sit down at one of the round tables for 8; listen to our prayer and enjoy the meal and accompanying chat. We try to ensure that new or vulnerable members are made to feel comfortable.
There are no rules, no committee, and the payment, (£15 recommended at present), is dropped into the original black honesty box donated by Fairy. We try to ensure that those we know are short put in what they can afford, and others compensate for them. We now have 5 ladies who look after us and we look after them socially & financially. A volunteer sorts the wine, another volunteer sorts the money paying the ladies, the food and for the wine and another does the admin. Membership numbers have ranged over the years between 60 and 70 with ages ranging between mid- seventies and 100. The numbers of younger fitter men are controlled to ensure the ladies can cope with their limited cooking facilities.
It is inevitable that with an age range such as this and a significant number of widowers, that support is often needed. Visits to the likes of the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham, a 50-mile round trip, were common as well as more local medical visits and help in the home.
In 2013 the village was approached to set up a Good Neighbour Scheme by the County Council and they appointed somebody to facilitate this. It is fair to say that a very significant proportion of the community, including the Vicar and the leader of the Parish Council at the time, were positively against the idea. To be told by the County Council that Whittington, which was a vibrant community which had lots of different organisations, needed such a scheme went down with many like a lead balloon.
However, those of us organising the Men’s Lunch Group knew of the need there which we were not fulfilling in the way we would like and, therefore saw that a Good Neighbour Scheme could be very effective in our community. From the very start we hoped that such a scheme could link some of the good, but insular, organisations in the village together.
The representative of the County Council set up a very small steering group and the Chair and secretary came from the Men’s Lunch Group with enthusiastic support from a retired vicar who lived in the village and knew from her work that there was a need. The group set about defining that need and what a Good Neighbour scheme could need to do to address that need. After 12months the contract of the County Council representative concluded, and the Steering Group decided to set a Management Committee to officially launch the Scheme in the village. Now it was clearly a scheme ‘Run by local people for local people’.
It took another 4 months to set up a VOIP telephone system, create a database for info about clients and volunteers, appoint 14 Duty Officers to run the scheme and write a volunteer handbook. Perhaps not surprisingly, half of those first Duty Officers were members of the Men’s Lunch Group. In May 2015 we went live. From the very start the scheme grew rapidly mainly through word of mouth – much more effective than numerous leaflet drops! Since that time, we have supported 200 people in the Community, we currently have around 100 clients on our books and 70 volunteers. We not only transport clients to medical appointments, hairdressers and fulfill numerous other tasks – see attached- but we have regular social get-togethers to try to reduce loneliness and address the mental & physical health problems that go with it.
This year we were exceedingly proud to receive the ‘Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service’ with the Citation ‘Providing help, support and opportunities for social interaction to vulnerable and lonely villagers.’
Chair, Whittington & Fisherwick Good Neighbour Scheme.