I’m on the top of the world lookin’ down on creation,
And the only explanation I can find,
Is the love that I’ve found ever since you’ve been around,
Your love’s put me at the top of the world…

WHEN health care worker Eunice Smith decided to do something positive about the chronic loneliness in her local community, she didn’t realise what she was starting.

The wonderful group she set up in Crook – fittingly called Friends Together – was not only an instant hit but it is now celebrating its first marriage proposal.

The Northern Echo: Bill and Ci with members of the Friends Together group in Crook. Pictures: Peter BarronBill and Ci with members of the Friends Together group in Crook. Pictures: Peter Barron

And what a proposal it was as 74-year-old Bill went down on one knee in the coffee shop at Bradley Burn Farm, at Wolsingham, and popped the question to a 79-year-old lady called Ci. That was after he’d taken her for a drive in the Durham Dales and serenaded her with “Top Of The World” by The Carpenters.

“The song just summed up how I felt about her,” says Bill, proudly holding Ci’s hand that bears a sparkling engagement ring.

The couple joined Friends Together last year having both been widowed and struggling to come to terms with loneliness.

“Until you experience it, you don’t realise how long the days and nights are when you’re on your own,” says Ci, a former pub landlady in Billy Row. “Joining Friends Together gave me a new lease of life but I wasn’t expecting to end up getting engaged!”

The couple, who preferred not to give their surnames, haven’t set a date for the wedding yet but Ci concedes: “Time isn’t on our side.”

For now, they are happy as they are – Ci living in Crook, Bill up the road at Roddymoor – but when the time comes to tie the knot, there’ll be no shortage of friends to invite.

“It’s such a wonderful group – so friendly right from the start. It was an absolute godsend,” says Ci, which is short for Cirene.

Bill, whose working life was spent at the Kenmore fridge factory in Crook, agrees: “People have just come together and made friends, but I knew I had special feelings for Ci, and it’s all worked out for us.” he says.

For founder Eunice Smith, the romance is the “icing on the cake”. “The aim of the group was to bring people together, but the engagement came as a lovely surprise,” she says. “It’s so rewarding to volunteer with such an amazing group of people.”

Eunice works as a health care assistant at North House Surgery in Crook and was struck by the number of people suffering from loneliness and social isolation. Determined to tackle the problem, she set up Friends Together at Crook Community Leisure Centre in April 2018.

The group initially had just six members, but the ranks have now swelled to nearly 40 and rising.

With the invaluable support of fellow trustees Susan Hall and Hazel Campbell, along with ten loyal volunteers, the group meets every Thursday from between 10.30am and 12.30pm, with a minibus helping to collect members from Crook and the surrounding area.

Attractions include speakers, singers, raffles, games of bingo, and trips out. They’re already looking forward to the panto – Snow White – at the Consett Empire at the end of the year.

The latest meeting, last Thursday, featured a cake sale which raised £180 for Macmillan Cancer Support. There was an extra cake baked to celebrate the 80th birthday of member Mary Button.

Meanwhile, the Friends Together success story continues to develop with plans afoot to launch a choir called Friends Aloud.

With a wedding in the offing, they might want to learn “Top of the World” as a matter of priority.

CIRENE isn’t a name I’d come across before and the story behind it goes back to the dark days of the Second World War.

Ci was born in an air raid shelter in 1940 as German aircraft attacked Birmingham. Her mother had been in labour all day and a young, newly-married couple, who lived next door, insisted she should have the privacy of the small communal shelter.

The baby was born just as the all-clear was sounding but her father’s joy turned to horror when he emerged from the safety of the shelter to see devastated buildings all around him. Those killed included the newly-weds next door.

The new parents wanted a name that would honour the sacrifice and courage of their neighbours. Had the baby been a boy, it would have been called Siren. Instead, Sireen was chosen and the spelling later changed to Cirene.

  • Anyone interested in Friends Together should either go to Crook Community Leisure Centre on Thursday mornings from 10.30am or contact Eunice Smith at North House Surgery in Crook (01388 762945)