'It doesn't feel like work' - Meet the volunteers providing activities for Banbury's older and vulnerable residents

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Volunteers at Banbury’s Cornhill Centre have been providing activities and care to older and vulnerable residents for over 10 years. Reporter Jack Ingham went along to find out more.

The Cornhill Centre was first opened as the Banbury Old People’s Club in the 1960s but has operated by the Royal Volunteer Service for around 10 years.

A team of volunteers at the centre dedicates their time to ensuring that older people have somewhere to play games and be around friends five days a week.

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Open from the morning until the afternoon from Monday to Friday, the centre hosts art and crafts sessions, dementia support groups, games, and hot meals.

Volunteer Sarah McDonald playing dominoes with Tina and Phyllis.Volunteer Sarah McDonald playing dominoes with Tina and Phyllis.
Volunteer Sarah McDonald playing dominoes with Tina and Phyllis.

Sam Wheeler works as a self-employed home helper for elderly people in Banbury but spends much of her free time at the centre volunteering as a service assistant.

She joined as a volunteer shortly after the lockdowns, when the centre was at risk of closure, and has been a part of the team that built the regular centre attendance up to around 16 people.

She said: “I love working with older people. It just doesn’t feel like work because we are having such a nice time. They have definitely become my friends.

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The Friday club is one of the most popular activities the centre runs, with attendees spending the morning playing games, enjoying a meal together and then some music or exercise activities.

Service assistant at the centre, Sam Wheeler, says she really enjoys working with older people.Service assistant at the centre, Sam Wheeler, says she really enjoys working with older people.
Service assistant at the centre, Sam Wheeler, says she really enjoys working with older people.

Sam said: “Without volunteers coming and making sure the attendees have the best day possible, most of the clubs at the centre would have closed down.

"It's good they get to spend a day out with company and a nice meal, because some of the attendees don’t go out that much.

"It’s getting people to come out and give the centre a try in the first place that’s the hardest thing. They think it's not for them or they will be shy or not walk well, which might put them off, but once they come, they see it doesn’t matter, and their confidence grows, and they are often then more confident to join more clubs or do more things.”

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A team of six volunteers runs the Friday club, which includes the much-needed drivers who bring people to and from the centre, even going as far as to wheel some people in wheelchairs from their homes on occasion.

Former Banbury Town Mayor Tina Wren has just started attending the club and comes for the conversation and to be around people of a similar age.

She said: “As I live alone, I enjoy sitting around with people and having a good chat when I come here.

"The volunteers here are very good. They do a lot for us, and many of us couldn’t manage without them."

While the centre has done much to improve the wellbeing of many of the people who attend, some of the volunteers have also seen the benefits of spending their time at the centre.

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Sarah McDonald has autism and has struggled before with confidence, but she says that volunteering at the centre has helped her find her voice and helped her make friends.

She said: “When I come here, I feel like I have a purpose and I’m helping people.

"When I first started volunteering here years ago, I was very quiet, but it has helped me to become much more confident.”

The Cornhill Centre is currently looking for volunteers to help run the clubs and, in particular, drive the attendees to and from the centre. To enquire about volunteering opportunities, visit https://www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/cornhill-centre/

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