Charity forced to close home-visiting service due to funds shortfall

A CHARITY that has been providing vital social contact for older people during the COVID-19 pandemic has run out of money for its befriending services in the Woking area.

Friends of the Elderly is seeking another organisation to take over its home visits and facilities, including a coffee shop.

Kevin Luddington says he can get very depressed without the connection of the befrienders

The charity is closing Woking Visiting Friends at the end of March because the coronavirus crisis has caused a huge shortfall in its fundraising.

“The decision has been an extremely hard one for the charity to take,” Friends of the Elderly director of engagement Mark Wilson told the News & Mail. “Since the pandemic began, we have had to spend over £500,000 on personal protective equipment for the staff working across all our homes and services.

“We have also funded new secure visiting areas across all our homes and paid for fogging of our homes to keep everyone safe. This has had a big financial impact on the charity.”

He said Visiting Friends’ service had never been a fully funded service. The charity had used its reserves to support it but could no longer do that.

Mr Wilson stressed that all the other paid-for Friends of the Elderly services, including its Bernard Sunley care home in Maybury, day care and home care services, will continue to operate.

The visiting service needed dedicated staff to organise its volunteers and activities, including the coffee shop. At a time of national financial difficulty, the charity was unable to finance this.

Retired Heathrow Airport security officer Kevin Luddington is a Visiting Friends client who will miss his regular contact with befrienders – especially the fish and chips that have been delivered to his home by volunteers.

“Someone calls me every week for a chat and to make sure I’m OK,” said Mr Luddington, 70, who lives on his own in Woking. “Without his calls I would hardly speak to anyone, as I don’t go out much and I can get very depressed.

“Every two or three weeks, they deliver an activities pack, with things like crosswords to keep me occupied and, in the last few months, fish and chips have arrived on a Friday evening.”

While it was permitted, Mr Luddington visited the charity’s tea shop at the Bernard Sunley home, socialising with other older people from the area. He also enjoyed trips to the coffee bar at Moorcroft community centre in Westfield, which is closed because of the pandemic.

“The tea shop won’t be reopening, and I’ll really miss it,” he added. “I get really lonely stuck at home by myself. I need the connection and need to talk to someone.”

Mr Wilson asked that any organisation that can take over the Visiting Friends service email him on Mark.Wilson@fote.org.uk or call 020 7730 8263.

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