Why not take some time to visit an older person near you? A chance to relax, do something good and make a new friend in the process.

With the future of the European Union and its member states under hot discussion I’ve been wondering if a focus on local issues around Europe isn’t overdue. With a seemingly ever-deepening crisis causing huge unemployment, I submit that it’s a good time for young people all over the continent to become involved with their local communities and concerns. In the Southwark area of London, one small charitable enterprise has been doing exactly that for well over a century, celebrating their 125th anniversary last September.

Time and Talents was originally set up by the Young Women’s Christian Association in 1887 under the leadership of three of its members. Its aim was to allow educated young women to assist others, and they did so by making toys and pictures for handicapped children in London, organising tea parties and country holidays for factory girls and making clothes for homeless people, among other things. They were involved in missionary work as far abroad as India, Japan and Australia.

The Time and Talents building at Rotherhithe, London| Photo: Time and Talents

A few years ago the organisation was contacted by one Rose Daisy Cox. Rose had been born in Southwark in 1911 and during the 1920’s joined Time and Talents as a teenager. She was taken on holidays to Jersey with her friends and this provided her with a welcome respite from the cramped living conditions she had been used to in London. Rose sadly died just before Christmas 2011, shortly after she turned 100 years old. She highlighted the considerable time for which this charity has been helping people from the area.

Since then the organisation as become completely secular and its work has changed to fit the times. Work with young people is an important area and though they have some involvement with this their main focus is now on the elderly. Situated by St Mary’s Church Rotherhithe in a scenic riverside area, Time and Talents still does excellent work in the local community.

One of their most worthwhile schemes is the befriending service. While becoming wheelchair bound or severely disabled is debilitating on a purely functional level, as it limits the abilities to work and travel, an often overlooked aspect is the loss of social independence. Socialising and making new friends can become almost impossible. The befriending service puts these people in contact with those in the community who can spare just an hour a week to visit and have tea or take a trip to the local shops or parks. They currently have around 30 volunteers each with their own person whom they have befriended.

‘We try to create environments which foster debate and inclusion rather than simply talking at our members.’

The organisation is run around a central group of about nine full and part time employees, but the majority of their projects depend upon volunteers who assist with the weekly groups and outings. The Social Contact group meets weekly and provides a forum for older women with mental health needs to socialise and exchange news, ideas and participate in activities. The over 60’s group has regular meetings and outings, recently bowling, the Museum of London and of course The Pub! They also took a trip to the local Surrey Docks farm which I can testify contains some rather fantastically-snuffly piglets. The Stroke Club caters to surviving victims of this debilitating problem to which most of us have lost relatives at one time or another. This provides support, advice and a range of social and health related activities. All the groups have small outings as regularly as is feasible. They have one minibus which is crucial for getting the people they assist from A to B but for the larger trips they have to hire special coaches. This year they plan to have a day trip to the seaside village of Dymchurch.

A group meets for the weekly arts club.| Photo: Time and Talents

‘One of our main focuses is social engagement,’ Alyson Moore, one of the core group of organisers, tells me. ‘We try to create environments which foster debate and inclusion rather than simply talking at our members. We really make the effort to listen to what people want and though we can’t always achieve everything we do a lot towards making people feel part of something.’ This enthusiasm is shared by the Interim director Ceri Williams, who believes in the importance of healthy social interaction as much as physical and medical support to ensure quality of life. ‘In the social sense the quality of work provided by our volunteers is second to none. It’s a positive sum game where both parties gain a mutual benefit.’ Indeed it’s hard to think of the process as ‘work’ at all, it involves making new friends, drinking tea and fostering an atmosphere of enjoyment. Many people volunteer for experience or simply because they can. It’s a great way for young people from other European countries to improve their English while settling into London.

One of the difficulties they point out is fund raising. They rely heavily on donations but they are able to rent rooms out for private functions and local authorities support some of the groups. They were fortunate to receive ten Golden Bond places for the London Marathon and every year ten people try to raise money running the gruelling 46.2 km course.

This charity embodies exactly what Europe is about; inclusion, cooperation for mutual benefit and an understanding that peoples needs extend to more than just staying alive. I would urge all young people across Europe to take a little time to become involved with elderly and disadvantaged people in their local area. In addition to improving your CV and gaining valuable experience, you can make new friends and become a part of something that truly works to make lives better in a tangible sense.

  • retro

    Michael O'Keeffe is a former editor of Brain and Legs for E&M. He holds a Master's in Chemistry from Oxford University and a PGCE from Christ Church Canterbury University. He is currently a science teacher living in London. He grew up in Northern Ireland before moving to England for university. He enjoys travel, debates and writing about social and political issues.

You May Also Like


Erasmus, erotic and the myth of abroad

Where is our identity? Leonardo Goi looks at the fractured state of European Identity ...

A Survival Guide to Bishkek

In the latest of our series of Survival Guides, E&M‘s Frances Jackson takes us ...