Our Warrington store's wonderful community champion Liz Cotterill has set up a community friendship group to help combat loneliness and make it easier for people who might otherwise be isolated to make new friends.
Liz started the group at the store's café for people of all ages to get involved with activities, hear about what's going on in the area and have a chat over a cuppa after she heard people from some of the local groups she volunteers with say they didn't have anywhere to meet new people.
Liz said: "There are lots of community events around Christmas focusing on getting people together across Warrington. But quite a few of the guests at these events, and customers I chat to, mentioned that they had nothing else to look forward to for the rest of the year.
"I had a look and noticed that although there were groups such as mum and toddler and elderly lunch clubs, there was nothing for all the community to come together.
"One customer, who's over 55, said 'people think I just want to be with people my age, but it's really nice for me to spend time with younger people.' So I thought it would be a lovely idea to get people of all ages from across our town into our store's cafe once a month.
"The meetings have been a great success and the feedback's been brilliant. For example, Police Community Support Officer Colin Blanchard said no-one had attended his recent surgeries, but at one of the meetings he got to speak to nearly 50 people."
The meetings take place at 11am on the second Monday of each month in the store's café and Liz is joined by colleagues from the store, as well as Beky Wakefield and Cathy Robinson, the community champions from our neighbouring Birchwood and Westbrook stores.
As well as sharing information, the meetings offer a chance for people to try new things – the last get-together included free crochet lesson from a craft tutor.
Liz said: "Customers passing by often want to know what's going on, so they join in too. It's great – the atmosphere is always really good and everyone always looks forward to the next one.
"It's all about making time for people and tackling loneliness through kindness and friendship."
Liz has set up a Facebook page for the group and has received some great feedback about her initiative, including these comments:
Katy Hansford said: "Was lovely to see the old generation mixing with the new today, passing on their wisdom and keeping in touch with today's youth! All made possible by this wonderful group ... well done Liz and team."
Patricia Chapman said: "It was lovely, met some old friends and made some new friends too, fantastic. Thanks Liz."
Helen Higginson, charity fundraising manager at Warrington Hospital, said: "I spoke to a variety of people and heard how important it was for those who live on their own or feel isolated and lonely to have a reason to put on their shoes and leave the house.
"I was very keen to support the initiative in any way I was able – especially because of the present countrywide rise in people feeling isolated and lonely.
"Having a hub where there is a welcoming, smiling face greeting everyone who walks through the door really does make a difference – it was a pleasure to be part of."
Colin said: "It was a very relaxed atmosphere with some ladies bringing their knitting along. Due to it being a relaxed meeting, the people attending found it easy to chat with me, whether it was just a general chat or issues they were having, and I could point them in the right direction."
The next event takes place in the café at our Warrington store on Monday 9 April starting at 11am – everyone is welcome.