It is not yet 10 o’clock in the morning and Leeds is already sweltering in the midst of an intense summer heatwave, so the alluring smell of freshly-cooked food wafting from the St Matthews Community Centre in Holbeck gives it the feel of an oasis in the middle of a scorching desert.
Inside, Holbeck Elderly Aid’s weekly community cafe provides a sanctuary for local residents to socialise and get active. People play ping pong, hot and cold food is served and participants sit around tables to catch up on the latest news. It might not seem like the biggest event in South Leeds but it has a huge impact on the lives of local elderly residents.
“It’s good for meeting people, making new friends, socialising and getting you out,” says Peter Wood, who attends every week. “There’s a lot of lonely people out there and it changes a lot of people’s lives.
“Table tennis gets me moving, it improves your balance. It gives you a purpose in life, to get up and get out. It makes a positive difference.”
One regular attendee is Mary West, who has been coming to Holbeck Elderly Aid’s events for over 19 years.
“Holbeck Elderly Aid do a lot for us, we wouldn’t get out otherwise. They can’t do enough for us – they’re lovely!” she enthuses, adding that one of her friends hadn’t left her house for 12 years before coming to the community cafe.
The event is just one of Holbeck Elderly Aid’s programme of activities organised five days a week, including Sunday dinners, lunches at Ingram Court and trips to Bridlington and Scarborough. Visits to the Carriageworks Theatre to see pantomimes particularly excite visitor Brenda Fish.
“I never used to do much before coming to Holbeck, then I started coming here. I have a husband who works a lot so I’ve got nothing to do otherwise, it gets me out,” she says. “I’d never been to a panto before coming here, but I’ve been twice since.”
The community cafe’s impact is big, but there are noticeably more women than men at the venue.
“Men are a lot more reluctant to accept help and support. If we do home visits or we tell them about the things we provide, they don’t usually engage with us,” explains Claire Holmes, who is responsible for the organisation’s outreach efforts.
“I think sometimes men find it more difficult to socialise than women. We’re trying to set up a men’s group to see if we can encourage more men to come along.”
And the work doesn’t stop there. Holbeck Elderly Aid will be re-branded as Holbeck Together in October as it aims to provide more activities for people of all ages.
“We’re going to be more community-focused for all age groups, it won’t just be for over-60s. In seasonal times of the year we get children to come in and do crafts and activities and they’re always really interested in the ping pong when it’s the school holidays!”
“We want to do intergenerational stuff so that they’ll be together, but also do separate activities so we can do things for younger people as well. That will come with the rebranding,” Ms Holmes adds.
“We don’t want to move away from what we’re already doing. Some of our users are worried about whether it will affect them in terms of what will be available to them. Everything will run as normal – it will just be an extension of what we already do.”
To find out more about the work of Holbeck Elderly Aid, visit their website here.