Monday Mardle at Saxlingham Nethergate

Published on: 1 January 2017

Corinne Douglas and Celia Blyth are archetypal "third agers": in their early 70's, active, committed members of their parish church. Twelve years ago they saw a need in their community and decided to do something about it.

An old cart barn had been transformed into a welcoming “room” just across the churchyard. Many older people in the village live alone so Corinne and Celia started a monthly coffee morning on a Monday morning. “We chose a Monday, because people have often found the weekend difficult if they’ve been on their own,” says Corinne. “We simply thought we’d see how it went.”

They opened the doors and around 15 people filled the small room. It quickly became clear that people wanted to meet more regularly and the Monday Mardle became a weekly two-hour event.

On the morning I visited, the Autumn sunlight was flooding through the large glass windows. There was a gentle buzz of conversation and drinks and biscuits were being happily consumed. Two greyhounds joined in: one curled on a blanket and the other mooching around each table in search of a fuss, or maybe the odd biscuit.

“It’s a place to meet up with old friends,” explains Corinne. “Most people come from farming families. They have wonderful stories and swap photos.”

While I was there Joan, in her 80s, was sharing photos of the wedding of her granddaughter that she’d recently attended. “I’ve been widowed for 10 years. This gets me out of the house and it’s nice to meet up with people and have a good chat.”

Pauline’s mother used to come every week and since her death Pauline now comes, although she lives in Brooke.

“It was so important for my Mum to have somewhere to come by herself; it gave her independence. Now I come because it’s like coming home. This is the village where I grew up and it’s nice to help out in the group.”

That was the primary feeling: everyone is known here; it’s become a community of people looking out for one another. Celia and Corinne are supported by a team of people. Transport is provided for those who need it. “Irene and Des used to come together, but he had a series of strokes and sadly died after some time in a nursing home. Already being known here has made it easier for Irene to continue coming, although she now lives in sheltered housing in Beccles. Folk keep coming back to see their friends.”

Monthly outings, sometimes to local garden centres with cafes, a summer outing to the coast, joining in events on at the church, such as flower festivals and a Christmas lunch provides a rhythm of activities for the group.

“Sometimes we have talks from local services such as the police and the fire brigade about staying safe in your own home. If anyone is not well, we can pick up on that and make sure they’re getting the help they need. We have someone who is a financial adviser in our congregation and she’ll visit people who might need advice. We sign-post onto other organisations when necessary.”

Corinne and Celia are typically self-deprecating about their own involvement. “We have lots of laughs – it’s the best medicine!”

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