A BEFRIENDING scheme aimed at easing loneliness and isolation among the elderly has proved an enriching experience for volunteers and recipients alike.

When 83-year-old Gerry Bass heard about Age UK's Good Friends scheme two-years-ago, he was keen to put himself forward to help.

Little did he know that the project, which matches volunteers with lonely elderly recipients to befriend, would benefit him as much as the person he was paired with.

Gerry, who lives near Hawes, was put in touch with 91-year-old Jack Elliott who lives on his own, and for the last two years, before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted things, they met up at a cafe every couple of weeks to catch up.

The Northern Echo:

Gerry Bass and Jack Elliott

Jack, who worked as a woodwork teacher for 25-years, was very physical in his younger years - even building his own bungalow to live in.

But as he got older he found himself unable to enjoy physical hobbies and became increasingly lonely.

Since being paired with Gerry, their friendship has blossomed to also include regular catch-ups between Gerry and Jack's daughter Lynn Miller and son Martin Elliott, who both live in the Colburn area.

They have all stayed connected throughout the lockdown period and since restrictions relaxed have been able to meet up in person, observing social distancing and support bubble rules.

Gerry explains: "I befriended Jack as a volunteer, but in actual fact I think we've befriended each other.

"When people are lonely they quite often need just a little bit of support really.

"This lockdown has disrupted things, but I would say I still contact one of the family about once a fortnight.

"I like being with Jack. He is unusually cheerful, he has got his own mind without a doubt and that is a good thing!

"I am bi-polar, so my own moods go up and down so occasionally I need help talking to people too; usually I am giving, but sometimes I am taking, I think we all just need to talk to someone sometimes."

The Northern Echo:

Jack Elliot

Jack, who is moving into Kirkwood Hall in Leyburn this week, said becoming friends with Gerry has been a highlight of his later years.

He said: "It has been one of the best things in my life.

"I don't see anyone other than when my family visit, but then I have the rest of the day on my own and I don't see anyone most days.

"Meeting Gerry has been very good for me, it makes me very happy.

"Since I have met him I've been a lot happier, we have a really good time and I wish I could see him more."

Gerry, who in previous years has volunteered abroad including in Africa and India, said helping others feels like a natural thing for him to do.

He said: "It makes me happy when I help other people, that is the truth.

"It might sound a bit weird to other people but that is how I am."

Lynn, a former Mayor of Colburn who served as a Richmond District Councillor for 20-years, said Gerry has become like part of the family and encouraged anybody who was feeling lonely to sign up to the Age UK scheme.

She said: "It is okay to ask for help.

"Being befriended by Gerry has been very helpful because it has given him (Jack) something to look forward to and brought a smile to his face.

"They seem to have quite a lot in common and they both love chatting which is absolutely wonderful.

"We have continued to socially-distance meet and kept in touch on the telephone throughout Covid and Martin and I have also become very, very close to Gerry.

"It has just been beautiful to be truthful.

"So we would recommend to anybody that is lonely, Age UK is wonderful, if you feel that you would like somebody in your life, contact them and they will match you with somebody."

You can watch Gerry and Jack talk about their experiences here.

  • Anybody who thinks they could benefit from the Good Friends scheme can contact the Richmondshire Age UK branch on 01748-327155 or find their local North Yorkshire branch contact details by visiting ageuk.org.uk/northyorkshiredarlington.
  • The charity is also in urgent need of more volunteers for the scheme, particularly in the Northallerton area. If you can help, email kate.marriott@ageuknyd.org.uk
  • This feature is part of a Salt of the Earth campaign with North Yorkshire County Council and our sister paper the D&S Times to highlight good deeds in the community. Do you know someone who is going the extra mile in their community? Get involved and nominate them to feature in the Salt of The Earth movement by email at saltoftheearth@northyorks.gov.uk