Faces at LHOF

An interview with Polly - Chair of LHOF

You will be known by many in Lewes as Chair of Lewes Seniors. Why did you want to take on the Chair of Lewes House of Friendship as well?

When the opportunity at the House came up, I thought it was an obvious link with my work with Lewes Seniors. We can collaborate with each other, build on our shared aims and goals and make a greater impact for our members through working together.

I know you are working now -albeit unpaid - but what did you do in your paid professional life?

I’ve been a teacher, social worker, assessor - lots of things. I taught and studied in Denmark for four years. I’ve lived in Lewes for about thirty five years and worked on setting up Lewes’s Friday Food Market. I’m rather proud of that!

We are an ageing population- this is often thought of as a negative thing but what do you think can be the positives?

There can be a lot of negative attitudes about ageing. We can be thought of as less productive, a nuisance in a queue, and taking up too much of the country’s resources. We may suffer some of the physical signs of ageing but we can be mentally sharp. We have wisdom, experience, we volunteer, we have time for friendships and have so many other strengths.

We are not irrelevant!

You obviously keep many balls in the air - how do you prioritise?

It has to be lists. Separate ones for the House, Lewes Seniors and a personal list. The housework suffers but I want to be engaged with life rather than being busy cleaning the sink. Time to get a cleaner!

If high streets aren’t welcoming for the older generation they will probably go on line instead. Do you think the town of Lewes is doing enough to keep the older population spending money in its shops?

I’ve had some input into the accessibility planning for the Phoenix development. The obvious things are wider pavements, easy wheelchair access, higher visibility of kerb drops and less pavement clutter. It has been suggested in the past - not completely seriously I think - that there should be a funicular up Station Street and buses from the station to get older people up the hill. If I had a magic wand I would probably flatten Lewes but on the other hand, doing Lewes’s hills helps to keep the fitter older citizens on the go.

More and more people over 70 are getting millions of followers on Tik Tok and Instagram. Do you think we’ll all be doing that soon? 

If anyone at the House wants to get us on Tik Tok - do come forward!

We all know that older people can be stigmatised as less confident with social media and the internet. There shouldn’t be the pressure that they have to do it. They have a choice and their choice should be respected.

We may be living longer but for many it’s longer, unhealthier lives. What do you do to keep healthy?

I do have a morning routine - a bit of yoga and Pilates. I love to walk and garden and we all know it’s good if you can to keep moving rather than sitting.

According to The Campaign To End Loneliness, nearly half of older people say the television or a pet is their main form of company. What can LHOF do to combat this?

We want to be a place that gives people a purpose to leave their home. Sometimes it can be hard to change and to take up new things. It is possible  to let one’s world shrink, particularly if one has suffered a loss. I know several members who have said they don’t know what they would have done without the House. That is a huge endorsement of what we do and what we offer.

Esther Ranzen said the killer question for the older generation is ‘What do you do for fun?’ Why do you think this is? What do you do for fun?

We have to try to keep a positive attitude, say yes to things and maybe leave our comfort zone from time to time to give us the opportunities to have fun.

I’ve never been to a panto before but this year I’m going with a friend to the St Mary’s panto and I’m sure there will be lots of laughs!

Do you have a favourite building or part of Lewes?

It’s Southover Grange Gardens for me. I think of it as the green heart of Lewes and a place where all ages can relax and enjoy themselves.

Have you read any of The Thursday Murder Club books? If you haven’t read them, do you have a favourite author and book?

I think I have read the odd one. Richard Osman is very clever but I can’t remember a thing about them! I love Terry Pratchett’s books and my favourite is Mort.

Do you have any wishes for the House for 2024?

I want everyone connected with the House to have a positive attitude to all those possibilities that could benefit our members!

An interview with Alex - Manager of LHOF

You’ve been Manager at Lewes House of Friendship since October 2022. What were your first impressions of us and has that changed over time?

On the day of my interview the weather was horrible and I arrived feeling a bit flustered. However, Reception was full of people chatting and the House felt such a warm, safe place. That impression hasn’t changed!

What were you doing before?

For the last ten years I was the Operations Manager at Home-Start East Sussex which is a charity that helps families in crisis and  survivors of domestic abuse. The knowledge I gained about how charities operate and managing volunteers has been invaluable here.

What do you think are the biggest professional challenges for you now?

There’s so much to remember- that’s really it!

What do you most enjoy about being our Manager?

I love talking to all the members and volunteers. The House hasn’t had a Manager before so it’s good to be at the start of something new.

How do you see Lewes House of Friendship changing over the next few years?

We may have to adapt what we offer. Our upcoming Strategic Review should show us how we need to change with the times.  Apparently robots are being introduced to support older people but I can’t ever see robots like that here!

We know how detrimental loneliness can be both mentally and physically. What do you think we can do to cater for people who may be lonely?

We have to offer activities that will attract people out of their homes and into the House.I think we already do a good job but we have to get the word out that we’re a modern up to date social hub with lots going on. I’m obviously working on that!

If you weren’t working what would be your perfect day?

It would start with an early morning walk by the sea with my husband. Breakfast and the papers would follow. Lunch would be Greek food then we would visit an art exhibition followed by dinner out with my husband and three children. Family games would end the day. I’m the mum of triplets - two boys and a girl. They’re 22 years old now. Their early years were physically hard work and they did have health problems that were a real worry. However, I think their teenage years were the most challenging!

We’re Lewes House of Friendship and friendship usually means being able to laugh together. Who or what makes you laugh?

My desk is near the kitchen so I can’t help but overhear Keith and Sophie our cooks. They are almost like a married couple because they know each other so well and their banter never fails to make me laugh.

Peter Kay is my favourite comedian and I love watching animals - particularly dogs - doing funny things on Social Media.

If you could invite one celebrity to visit us, who would it be and why?

Actually, I’d like to invite two. One’s Sir Michael Palin as he strikes me as a nice man and I’d like to hear him talk about all the places he’s visited. The second one is Dame Anna Wintour. She’s been at the top of her game in publishing and the fashion world for so long. I’d like to ask her what she would change at the House. Who knows what she’d come up with!

An interview with Keith - our cook

What is your favourite meal to cook at the House of Friendship?

Pie, definitely pie. Doesn’t matter if it’s chicken, steak – any kind of pie. And it’s probably the members' favourite too.

Do you get to cook pie very often?

We usually have a pie on every week, which is nice.

How many meals do you have to cook on an average day?

Anywhere between 30 and 40, sometimes in the winter it will go above 40, and about 57 at Christmas. 

How has your work been affected by the pandemic?

It generally hasn’t been affected in any way, because I still get to go to work, and do the same commute and everything, so that’s pretty much the same. But we do have more customers than we did when we were only doing meals in house, so yeah, it’s really upped the numbers.

Do you cook the same meals here as you do at home?

I try not to cook too much at home and I don’t really. We usually try and make it something quite quick and easy to cook, because after a day's cooking you don’t really feel like cooking much at home as well.

What’s the most difficult thing you’ve had to cook at the House of Friendship?

Overall, I would say that the gluten-free is the hardest. But generally, there aren’t that many allergies that I have to cook for here.

And how do you always get tickets to Glastonbury?

Oh, it’s nothing other than luck. We’ve been very lucky getting to go for the last four years. And if I can’t get tickets, I’ll usually try to volunteer somehow.

What is your favourite band to listen to?

Bear’s Den – an indie folk band. They could possibly sound quite boring to a lot of people, but they have their moments! I listen to lots of different stuff - if someone said they had tickets for a band I would always say I’d like to go. I love to see any of the new bands.



An interview with Sophie 

What do you enjoy about working with Keith?

He’s fine... he’s very easy going, he’s not a moody chef. He did have reservations when I came here as I was employed as a cleaner. Then we used to have a little old lady – Daf – that used to work in the kitchen, but she left and then Heather offered the job to me. So, I walked in and Keith looked and thought ‘I’m not sure if you’re much of a kitchen assistant’. But five or six years down the line, I’ve learnt a lot, as we have to cover and cook when he’s off as well. He’s a laugh to work with. And we all have our off days, so I know that if he’s quiet then I know I don’t talk to him, but I’m very rarely quiet, am I? 

So, what do you like particularly about the job?

I like the interaction with the elderly.  I used to work at a care home, so I’ve got a lot of time for the elderly. When they’re here, we give them a well cooked home-made meal and at least then you know they’re having one good meal a day. Doing the delivery in the Pandemic was a good thing we did for members and I think we’ll end up carrying on doing that.

Do the kitchen staff work well as a team?

Yes,  I think we do. He tells me if I’m standing about, not doing anything, and we work well.

What’s the biggest challenge?

Especially now doing the deliveries, we know how many we’re cooking for that is such a good thing. When we were open before the Pandemic, we could have eight people in, or we could have twenty people in. You never knew, because they didn’t book, they were our regulars, but with deliveries we know how many we’re cooking for. Numbers having meals in the house are rising now and that's good too. 

Do you do the cooking at home?

I do. I’ve picked up a lot of ideas from here. I cook every day for my husband and lads, every evening, and a roast on a Sunday. They all can cook, theyre very good cooks but I do 99% of the cooking at home. But my boys always cook my Christmas dinner.

Have you grown up enjoying cooking?

Yes, I suppose I have. My boys always say I’m not adventurous enough. They say I don’t use enough herbs and spices, they like everything chilli hot!

An interview with Carol 

How long has Tuesday's craft group been going for?

We’ve been going a while – before lockdown. People just come along and bring their own knitting or crochet or embroidery or whatever they want to do. I’ve done most crafts so if something pops up, I can show them how to do it, or point them in the right direction.

During lockdown, we had a zoom meeting every week, so that we didn’t lose contact with everybody. Now we're back and it’s so nice to talk to people face to face.

Is it the same now after lockdown as it was before?

Yes, exactly the same. just  slightly further apart from each other, unless I’m showing somebody something. We’ve all had our jabs though, so it’s a very safe environment.

How many people are in the craft group?

There’s a regular half a dozen, and then we get others coming in as well. We don’t stop anybody from coming in to take a look at what we’re doing.

What does everybody do in the group?

They all do their own thing and on occasions I can show people what to do. Almost any craft really, within reason.

What’s your favourite craft to do?

Crochet at the moment, but then during lockdown I taught myself how to do macramé. I made one of those hangers for flowerpots, and hung it up on the wall, with a teddy bear for the children to play with.

Did you knit your jumper?

Yes I did, and during lockdown I did a lot of keyrings, so all my friends on the bus have a little macramé keyring – including one bus driver who wanted an owl. We also have a lady who makes a lot of pompoms which we attach to our keys so that we can find them easily.

What made you want to start volunteering at the House of Friendship?

My husband died about ten years ago, and well, you’re on your own. You don’t know where to start to be honest. So, I was just walking up the hill one day and I thought I might go and have a lunch and by the time I left I was volunteering.

I volunteered at the desk Friday mornings and now I come in on Mondays and sit and do the orders that come in for the meals. I had a friend Wendy, who wanted to get a craft group going somewhere, so I said, ‘Why not do it here?’ I'm very pleased that it's a success.



An interview with Jenny

What made you want to start volunteering here?

Well, I’d come back to Lewes after looking after my parents for a few years. I’d been really grateful for groups like Age UK having my parents for a morning and I thought ‘Ooh, I’ll be able to do some volunteering’.

I didn’t come in here originally – I was looking for a part time job, but in the end, I saw the notice outside, and went to see if they needed anyone for reception. I thought this would be good experience if I wanted to apply for a job as a receptionist.

When did you first start volunteering?

Well, it was 2008.

So, you’ve been here 13 years? How much would you say the House has changed during your time here?

It’s become more fresh and modern.  Heather had it all revamped and done up. It’s really just reception and the lounge that changed, I think.

What do you do to help out?

I started out just coming in one morning a week, and that was lovely – suited me fine. But then various people left – at one point there were only  three of us all together! When I first started, there were a set group of members, who had to have their chairs and their particular tables for lunch but luckily things have changed and  there’s certainly more new faces. I do lots of different things at different times!

What’s your favourite memory of the House?

I really liked it one morning where we had people that haven’t been in for a while relaxing and saying: ‘Oh, it's so nice you're open again’.  You could sense the cheerfulness!

Do you have a particular day that you like coming in on? Because of the people there, or the activities on, that kind of thing?

Well, I used to like doing Thursdays because in the mornings they had the Extend exercise group and they’re all very positive. Then in the afternoon it used to be the Memory Choir for people with dementia, and you just saw how they all came in smiling.

What do you like about the House?

If there’s one thing that I’d like to change about the House, I’d take it off this hill. It’s just so hard to get to! But I love the House, it’s old and attractive. Also, being here, we do have the flats, which bring in income to keep the House going!