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Music and dancing: it’s all on a holiday at a church near you

29 July 2016

Highfield Church

Overcoming loneliness: churches including Highfield, in Southampton, are running holiday camps for the elderly and disabled, often with themes

Overcoming loneliness: churches including Highfield, in Southampton, are running holiday camps for the elderly and disabled, often with themes

CHURCHES across the UK are breaking out the bunting and throwing open their doors this summer to host “holiday camps” for the elderly. Music, dancing, crafts, exercise classes, and luncheons are just a few of the activities on offer to those who are taking part in the scheme “Holiday at Home” this year.

A group from St Mary’s, Marshalswick, in the diocese of St Albans, has teamed up with a holiday camp to help host its four-day holiday-in-miniature for 40 elderly people in and around the parish.

The guests will spend 1 August at the church, arriving for morning coffee before taking part in a “mystery tour” of the building, and enjoying a cream tea and conversation with volunteer hosts from the church.

The Vicar, the Revd Grant Holmes, said: “We get all the newspapers, and provide space for those who are overawed by such a gregarious group to have somewhere to sit and read. As well as the cooks and drivers, we have hosts who spend the day with the ‘holidaymakers’, giving support and making conversation.”

Participants pay £25 each. It is sponsored by businesses in the area, and the parish council. The church provides the management, the volunteers, and the premises.

It comes after a recent study by the Church Urban Fund, which suggested that loneliness was as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day — and more damaging than obesity (News, 22 July). The study concluded that “churches are able to welcome people of all ages and stages of life into the new friendships and activity groups that help to reduce loneliness,” and is encouraging more to do so.

Canon James Woodward, the Principal of Sarum College, which is launching a Centre for Human Flourishing that is to explore the topic of ageing, said that Holiday at Home was a great place to start.

“The experience of isolation is widespread amongst older people, as documented by [the charity] Age Concern, and those who work in health care. Long hours spent alone, and the vulnerability that this brings, is a spiritual issue for older people, and for those of us who aspire to live in communities where all flourish.”

Holiday at Home was an “inspired initiative” to bring people together, he said. “These intergenerational connections offer the opportunity to listen, support, affirm, and care for a section of the community that is so often hidden. We have much to learn from older people — they are the Church’s natural spiritual constituency.”

In the diocese of Winchester, a group at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Four Marks, is inviting the elderly to holiday with them for three days in August. Similarly, about 40 people are due to take part in activities including crafts, ’60s music, and films.

The organiser, Lisa Bonter, said: “We have about 25 helpers getting involved; [members of] the village lunch club, who are not even part of the church, are providing food, and, though we are asking for donations for lunch if people want to give, there is no cost to anyone coming on the holiday.”

The Women’s Institute, and the Borough Council, have offered to cover some of the costs of the event.

At Highfield Church, Southampton, a group took their annual holiday “abroad” with a French theme this year. They spent two days in “Paris” on 23 June, and, for £10 a day, enjoyed music, activities, and French cuisine. The city chaplain for older people, the Revd Erica Roberts, said: “The church was transformed by our creative team — the philosophy of the day is always that guests and volunteers mix seamlessly.”

The holidays are also popular in the centre of the country. St Peter’s, Oundle, in Peterborough, hosted its third Holiday at Home, in June, for 74 elderly people. Volunteers provided lifts, ran workshops, donated, cooked, and served lunch, and cleaned up.

The co-ordinator, Sarah Lee, said: “It was great to offer this holiday to disabled and elderly folk in Oundle and the surrounding villages, as many find it too tricky to get away from home now they are older.”

St John’s, Harborne, in Birmingham, has run its own version of the experience, “Prime Time”, during three days in August for the past eight years. “The idea of a ‘holiday at home’ is that those who attend will feel like they are on holiday, although they will be back home in their own beds each night,” the organiser, Catriona Foster, said.

More than half of the 50 participants this year are not churchgoers, although most have links through the various retirement homes in the parish, she said. Entertainment includes speakers, discussion groups, Thought for the Day, and a three-course lunch. “It is a wonderful way of valuing and serving older people, and can have huge benefits to physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.”

Also hosting holidays are Christ Church, Bedford; Trinity Churches, in Meole Brace, Shrewsbury; and Christ Church, Abingdon, among others.

A retired Church Army evangelist, Nanette Sanderson, who has been running “Rendezvous”, a two-day holiday at St Thomas’s, Brampton, in Derbyshire, for the past 11 years, said: “Rendezvous continues because we believe this is what God wants us to do. Stereotypical images of older people as frail and over the hill need to be challenged. Whatever age we are, we are not passive receivers but people with gifts to share.”

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