Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Club is home from home

ASK the members of Henley’s Over-60s Club what it means to them and they’ll tell you simply that it’s their

ASK the members of Henley’s Over-60s Club what it means to them and they’ll tell you simply that it’s their lifeline.

The club, which is situated in Greys Road car park, has been running for more than 40 years and has almost 200 members who pay just £15 a year to attend.

It offers a place for people to socialise and find companionship as well as providing a range of services overseen by managers Lynda Mortimer and Connie Butt.

These services include hairdressing, chiropody and, most importantly, a hot meal at lunchtime on three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Prepared by chef Marek Mosaluk, lunch cost £5 for two courses.

There are also light lunches on Thursdays, line dancing, bingo, an arts and crafts morning and computer lessons.

With a bus stop in Upper Market Place and help from the Henley and District Handybus to collect and drop off members, the location is ideal.

Mrs Mortimer said: “Some people don’t see anybody so to come and have a chat with other people and have a hot meal and some companionship in a warm place in a central location is a lifeline.

“It’s all about friendly faces and you have got Connie and me, who are here as a constant.”

This reporter joined about 30 members for lunch on a Friday and was treated to roast chicken with vegetables followed by raspberry cheesecake. It was so delicious we had seconds.

Over pudding, 90-year-old club member and widow Violet Harding said: “This is our saviour, it really is.

“The main thing is we come and have a good meal, which we wouldn’t be able to cook ourselves and that’s vitally important.

“My husband died four years ago and I sat indoors for three months. Then I thought ‘this has got to stop’ and a friend suggested the club and it is the best thing that’s happened to me.

“The minute I walked in there were people who knew me and recognised me and said, ‘hello Vi’.”

Wynn Phillips, 71, who visits the club three times a week, said: “I get fed up and very depressed on my own, so this is everything. The whole companionship thing, it can’t be beaten. We all think the world of our two angels, Connie and Lynda.”

Betty Allan, 90, said: “The food is so good because it’s what you should have every day. It’s meat and vegetables and a dessert that has always fruit in it.”

Muriel Forrest, who is in her late eighties, said: “I’m perfectly capable of cooking — it’s not that — but I come here for the company because I’m on my own.

“I enjoy a chat and we all have a good laugh and enjoy ourselves.

“I don’t know what I’d do without it to be honest. I find it gives structure to the week otherwise you would be sitting at home on your own.”

Marlene Oliver, 81, said: “It’s somewhere to go when you’re on your own and everybody here is friendly. We consider we’re very lucky we have this place.”

Jean Hooker, 92, has been going to the club every Friday for almost 30 years and has her hair styled every Friday by hairdresser Janet Richmond.

“Janet’s an excellent hairdresser,” she said. “I couldn’t do without her.”

Walter Goode, 88, said: “The point is when you’re living on your own it’s difficult to cater for yourself, just one person, so the club’s a lifesaver really.”

The former Henley Day Centre opened in September 1971 in place of the old St John Ambulance Brigade hall after a year of fund-raising.

In order to raise money, the original management committee started a darts team to play against local pub sides. In 1992, the club was threatened with closure when the Henley Education Charity, which then owned the building, submitted a planning application to turn it into offices.

Henley Town Council then bought the premises to guarantee its future.

Now the council provides a grant of £10,000 a year while other funding comes from hire of the venue, a split of Mrs Richmond’s profits and interest from legacies.

The club also receives grants and donations from businesses.

The town council has responsibility for the exterior of the building, while the management committee looks after the interior.

Gill Dodds, who chairs the centre’s management committee, believes the club is the only one of its type in the country.

“The traditional county centres would be more respite care for the elderly,” she said. “If this had been owned by the county council it would have closed years ago.

“As long as the people of Henley want it we will continue to provide it.”

Mrs Dodds, a former town mayor, said the centre was good for the users’ health and wellbeing.

“People are better and healthier if they get out and socialise rather than just staying at home and looking at four walls,” she said.

“If you have 50 people in here each one will have their own story as to how this place has helped them.”

The centre’s latest attraction is four computers donated by Henley Computer Support in Bell Street, together with one for the office.

The computers have internet access and business owner James Pratt holds a two-hour tutorial once a week for members.

Mrs Mortimer said: “I’ve got a waiting list of people wanting to use them. They’ll be able to Skype and email. It’s a real step forward as they wouldn’t do it at home. I think it’s the most exciting thing in here to be honest.”

The club also hosts “knit and natter” events and last month 23 members took a “tinsel and turkey” holiday in Eastbourne.

Mrs Mortimer and Mrs Dodds are keen to reach out and help more people as well as having more volunteers who may have a skill to share with members.

If you are interested in joining the club, membership costs £15 a year, payable in January. The centre is open from 10am until 4pm daily and can be contacted by calling (01491) 574718.

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