​A new befriending service has brought the older community of Kent together and even sparked a romance

Diane and Wendy

Earlier this year, Wendy Pfeiffer and Diane Bromley were made redundant from Age UK in Maidstone, where they worked for the charity’s West Kent Befriending Service.

Since then, Inspired Villages which operates six retirement villages across the country, has launched a new service called Inspired Friendships, which has enabled Wendy, Diane and all the volunteers around Maidstone to continue their vital work.

Inspired, which in Spring 2021 will launch Ledian Gardens (pictured above) – a village of 116 one-and two-bedroom homes in Leeds village near Maidstone, Kent, boasts an ethos of creating communities that combat loneliness.

“Sadly there is no vaccine for loneliness – community is the only cure,” explains Inspired’s Chief Operating Officer Tom Lord.

“With family units now dispersed around the country and the world older people cannot rely on their sons and daughters to look after them away more. Everyone is so busy too – there is an expectation to work seven days a week and be on a computer or phone.

“There are upsides to technology of course but the gap between a Skype call or zoom session and the next one can seem endless for some.”

Inspired Friendships came about with Inspired’s sponsorship of the West Kent Befriending service. “We were blown away by the work they did,” Tom adds. “They had reinvented befriending by putting on events for older people – rather than just offering a phone call or dropping off a meal.”

“One great idea has been the ‘talking bus’ – where everyone is invited to meet at a bus stop at a certain time on a designated day – and use their bass pass to go to Tunbridge Wells for a coffee together and then ride back.”

Up to 30 people normally gather at the bus stop and meet Wendy and Diane, the organisers.

The befriending service which so far supports 65 people, is currently open to everyone in Maidstone.

“It’s about connecting people with others so that friendships can blossom,” says Tom. “It’s a kind of networking for retirees.

“Long term we want to be a trusted service within the communities we work – providing home help or cleaning.”

Retired policeman Eric Roberts, 82, a widower with two daughters, met Val Lidington at a coffee morning organised by the Maidstone befriending service.

“I was feeling a bit lonely after my partner Heather died and a bit isolated,” says Eric. “My daughter suggested going to a coffee morning arranged by the friendship service. About 25 people turned up and one of them was Val.

“We made a deal that we would accompany each other on future outings so we wouldn’t have to go anywhere alone.

“We got on so well you could say romance blossomed. I fell in love with her.”

The couple (pictured left) spent both lockdowns together but have decided to continue to live separately.

“We talk every day and are quite happy as we are,” adds Eric.

“We’ve been on some lovely outings. On one ‘talking bus’ they had to put on a double decker there were so many of us. We’ve been to lots of towns and villages and even had some primary school children join us which was lovely.

“They are lovely ladies at the friendship service – Diane and Wendy rang me every week after lockdown to make sure I was all right.”

Widow Val Lidington, 74, who was married for 20 years to the deputy fire chief of Kent, says,  “I wasn’t getting out enough or talking to people so I decided to go on an outing arranged by the befriending service and met Eric. It’s so nice having someone to do things with. But I am happy living on my own – I share a four-bedroom chalet bungalow with my two daughters and son-in-law.

“Eric loves his garden and I have my interests but I want to take him to Hastings and Whitstable where he hasn’t been in over 30 years.”

For more information about the service which is currently only available in the Maidstone area please email: inspiredfriendships@inspiredvillages.co.uk or wendy.pfeiffer@inspiredvillages.co.uk.