Faces at LHOF
An interview with Heather - our Chairman
How long have you been Chairman?
I became Chairman in 2007. My husband had died several months before and I wanted to find some voluntary work to fill my time. I went to Lewes Volunteer Bureau (now 3VA) and enquired whether they had anything suitable. It so happened that the current Chairman had just been in to ask them to try to find a successor as she wanted to retire having held the post for many years. I met up with her and she explained the role. We got on well and I could see the potential and the rest is history as they say!
What do you enjoy most about being Chairman?
I like the fact that I'm using many of the skills learnt in business. I was HR Director and Company Secretary in an electronics company so was used to dealing with personnel issues as well as quality standards. Age UK had imposed several directives on the charities that were linked to them as 'friends' so my first few months were taken up with writing policies and procedures. Most enjoyable though is knowing that we provide a pleasant place for older people to meet for coffee or lunch or to participate in activities. The House is run by volunteers with paid staff in the kitchen. It's managed by a board of trustees and committee members and we meet bi-monthly.
What do you enjoy least?
Seeing how much we have to spend on the maintenance of a Georgian building. There is always some sort of repair waiting to be done. We are very lucky to have four small flats at the top of the House to provide a regular income but they are not without their problems.
How do you see the future of LHOF?
The House of Friendship was founded in 1970 by Mr and Mrs Richards who saw a gap in the market for a place where older people could meet. They raised enough money to buy the premises and started doing activities and offering lunches cooked by volunteers.
We still do very much the same except these days, newly retired people don't always wish to participate in activities or eat their main meal at lunchtime. We are constantly thinking of ways to attract 'younger' people but it's difficult to know what they want, if anything from a place like the House of Friendship.
Because of the pandemic, we started delivering meals to our most vulnerable members in March 2020. This has become an important part of our business as fewer people come to the House for lunch.
Who knows what the future holds? More of the same, perhaps, but with a different twist! Watch this space...
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!