The High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire has praised 30 teenagers from Rushcliffe School who give companionship to care home residents and continue to visit even after an elderly friend dies.
Sixth-formers from the school visit residents at Leawood Manor in West Bridgford – where they spend an hour or so each week chatting to them and encouraging them to share their memories. Many of the residents have dementia but the young people are taught to see the person and not the disease.
The ‘YOPEY Befriender’ programme is run by the charity YOPEY (Young People of the Year). YOPEY runs a growing number of these schemes around the country and the Rushcliffe-Leawood Manor scheme is one of the oldest and most successful.
High Sheriff, Col. David Sneath, paid a special visit to the Hilton Crescent home to meet some of the Rushcliffe YOPEY Befrienders along with their elderly companions and to congratulate them on their volunteering.
“It’s wonderful that this charity is bringing the generations together and encouraging us to see young people being caring in this way, because they represent our future,” he said.
The high tea was also attended by YOPEY founder Tony Gearing who said: “I started YOPEY Befriender to tackle loneliness among the old but soon realised dementia was as major a problem. Through YOPEY Befriender young people are learning to tackle two problems that can only get bigger as families grow further apart and each generation lives longer than the last.”
During the visit the high sheriff handed out awards for the number of hours the befrienders had spent on the visits.
Seventeen-year-old Jack Dewick, who has notched up nearly 30 hours, said: “If I have spare time this is what I do with it.” He had two special friends at the care home and continued to visit after one of them died. “I was absolutely devastated when Harry died. I thought about not coming anymore but decided Brian still needs me.”
Sixteen-year-old Lola Smith is friend to 104-year-old Jeanie Richardson. Lola said: “Dementia affects so many families and this scheme has helped me to give something back to the community. Jeanie and I talk about clothes and look through magazines together. I love being able to put a smile on her face.”
Seventeen-year-old Liz Hallam has forged strong friendships with residents Joan and Eunice. She said: “I like coming to the care home and talking about life. Our conversations are really interesting and make my problems seem less serious.”
As well as bridging the generation gap, the YOPEY Befriender scheme can also heal divisions between races. Zara Sheikh, who is a 16-year-old muslim of Pakistani heritage, faced some low-level racism at first. “I met one man who assumed I came from a poor part of Nottingham and had immigrated to the UK recently. I explained my background – I am British, as are my parents – and since then we have got on fine.”
Assistant Head of Rushcliffe, Shrutee Desai, said: “YOPEY Befriender fits perfectly with our school ethos, which is all about developing the whole child. Not only has it increased the students’ understanding of support work, it’s also developed their confidence and offered insight into career pathways such as medicine, nursing or social work.”
Leawood Manor’s manager Jeremy Dignum said: “The residents look forward to the YOPEY Befrienders visiting. This is a two-way street – a partnership that benefits both sides.”