‘Light at the end of the tunnel’ snatched away from our elderly as day centre forced to close

Friendship House in Hatfield has supported the community for 50 years. Picture: Supplied

Friendship House in Hatfield has supported the community for 50 years. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Archant

Elderly residents in Welwyn Hatfield, who have been waiting patiently for the end of the pandemic so they can socialise once again, have had their “light at the end of the tunnel” snatched away from them.

Friendship House in Hatfield has supported the community for 50 years. Picture: Supplied

Friendship House in Hatfield has supported the community for 50 years. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Archant

Friendship House in Hatfield has also been serving the WGC community since the closure of the Douglas Tilbe House in 2017, and is now facing its own struggles.

The day care centre, which has everything from bingo, dementia, exercise and spiritualist groups to a chiropodist, hearing advice and advice for the elderly struggling with forms, is set to close as the coronavirus pandemic has left it with little to no funding.

Friendship House in Hatfield has supported the community for 50 years. Picture: Supplied

Friendship House in Hatfield has supported the community for 50 years. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Archant

As a charity, based on Wellfield Close near Greenacres assisted living facility, Friendship House has relied – ever since its grant was cut by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council in 2014 – on fundraisers to service its over 130 users a week.

But with no income from the shop, the day care centre or from fun runs, bake sales and car boots there has been little places to turn to while the service remains shut due to the ongoing pandemic.

Hazel Vyse, Sharron Harrison, Thelma Bennett, Cath Sharma and Mavis Scholes gather to celebrate Frie

Hazel Vyse, Sharron Harrison, Thelma Bennett, Cath Sharma and Mavis Scholes gather to celebrate Friendship House's 44th birthday - Credit: Archant

Tracey Harding, a five and half years assistant manager at Friendship House from WGC, told the WHT: “This place is a lifeline for the elderly and improves their quality of life.

“It will be a big loss to the local community.

MP Grant Shapps and Town Mayor Howard Morgan join local councillors, staff and volunteers of Friends

MP Grant Shapps and Town Mayor Howard Morgan join local councillors, staff and volunteers of Friendship House to celebrate gaining funding to keep it open in 2014 - Credit: Archant

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“At the moment, our users are stuck at home. They’re full of loneliness and they’ve got depressed. It’s just awful.

“You speak to their family members and they’ve seen such a decline. They really hoped they would get back here with their friends.

Clients of Friendship House releasing 40 red balloons on its 40th anniversary

Clients of Friendship House releasing 40 red balloons on its 40th anniversary - Credit: Archant

“With the vaccine, they could see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Throughout the pandemic Tracey and the team, which includes manager for 12 years Sarah Swinden from Hatfield, two cooks and a cleaner as well as lots of volunteers, have rang their users to keep them company, run meals on wheels and made deliveries for those shielding.

Visitors gather to celebrate Friendship House's 44th birthday

Visitors gather to celebrate Friendship House's 44th birthday - Credit: Archant

Sarah added: “We need someone backing us, just a small grant and just take us on.”

Apart from the financial side, Friendship House’s committee – which helps run the charity – has had a number of bereavements so they also need more people from the community to help out.

Visitors gather to celebrate Friendship House's 44th birthday

Visitors gather to celebrate Friendship House's 44th birthday - Credit: Archant

“We can’t do that as well as running the place,” Sarah added.

While Tracey, who has been made redundant along with Sarah, said for them its not about losing their jobs.

Visitors to Friendship House talk to the local Fire Safety advice team

Visitors to Friendship House talk to the local Fire Safety advice team - Credit: Archant

“We’ve love it and we would never have changed a thing,” she said. “We have our hours but we always do outside that. We’ve continued to do whatever is needed and what we could.”

Many may think there is Jimmy Mac’s in Hatfield, Sarah explained, but this community centre service is often not suitable for those that come to Friendship House.

Connie Flemming cuts her 100th birthday cake at Friendship House. Picture: DANNY LOO

Connie Flemming cuts her 100th birthday cake at Friendship House. Picture: DANNY LOO - Credit: Archant

“More able bodied people go there,” she said. While Friendship caters for those in their 80s or 90s that have mobility issues or dementia.

To add further insult to injury, the day centre – which has been going since July 1970 – was due to celebrate its 50th anniversary a few months after the pandemic began.

Visitors to Friendship House talk to the local groups about elderly issues

Visitors to Friendship House talk to the local groups about elderly issues - Credit: Archant

“It’s so sad and heartbreaking,” Tracey adds, while her and Sarah try to hold back the tears while speaking to the WHT. “It’s always just felt like a family.

“There’s always been someone out there wanting help and this has just seemed like such an important place.”

Visitors to Friendship House talk to the local groups about elderly issues

Visitors to Friendship House talk to the local groups about elderly issues - Credit: Archant

A sentiment echoed by “devastated” Mavis Scholes, 93, who’s daughter Angela Dimond explained how it had been a “lifeline” for Welwyn Hatfield’s elderly.

She wrote a letter to the WHT saying: “Friendship House provides important services, enabling people like my mother to be independent and have improved quality of life.

Gladys Bullen (front, second from left) celebrates her 103rd birthday with family and friends at Fri

Gladys Bullen (front, second from left) celebrates her 103rd birthday with family and friends at Friendship House. - Credit: Archant

“The staff have consistently worked hard to keep Friendship House going, by fundraising activities and providing excellent care and it is particularly sad that they will now lose their jobs.”

Many of the users are also busy writing to Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps, who helped save the service in 2014 when it was also threatened with closure, and they are awaiting his response.

Friendship House in Hatfield has supported the community for 50 years. Picture: Supplied

Friendship House in Hatfield has supported the community for 50 years. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Archant

Friendship House in Hatfield has supported the community for 50 years. Picture: Supplied

Friendship House in Hatfield has supported the community for 50 years. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Archant

Friendship House in Hatfield has supported the community for 50 years. Picture: Supplied

Friendship House in Hatfield has supported the community for 50 years. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Archant

Friendship House in Hatfield has supported the community for 50 years. Picture: Supplied

Friendship House in Hatfield has supported the community for 50 years. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Archant

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