Historic Knaresborough group tackles hidden problem of elderly loneliness

Now retired, not so long ago John Moore was an engineer for major firms in Harrogate and York lending his expertise to projects all over the world.

Monday, 22nd February 2016, 4:01 pm
Updated Monday, 22nd February 2016, 4:05 pm
Three of the trustees of Knaresborough Friendship and Leisure Centre Gillian Mercer, Susan Boddy and John Moore. (1602021AM2)

Now he’s applying his energies and skills as chairman of Knaresborough Friendship Centre with much the same craft and dedication.

Before readers leap to the conclusion that this is a bit of a one-man job, it should be mentioned that this local organisation, which supports local elderly people, is run by a board of trustees and relies on the help of 70 to 80 regular volunteers, many of them from local churches.

John , himself, is a former chairman of Knaresborough Bed Race and an ex-president of Knaresborough Lions with whom it’s fair to say Knaresborough Friendship and Leisure Centre has a close relationship.

Then again, almost all the good community projects taking place week in, week out in Knaresborough share people and links and, sometimes, resources. It’s that sort of town.

Famed for its annual Christmas parcels which it delivers to hundreds of elderly people each year, the most basic function John and the small army of helpers is to offer ridiculously cheap tea and biscuits on an almost daily basis to anyone aged 55 or over who happens to pop into the centre.

John, who is married with two grown-up children, said: “I personally don’t think times are harder financially for older people but, socially, it’s worse.

“There’s more loneliness. People don’t stay where they are. Kids move away these days to go to university or for work reasons. Our job is to cheer people up, even if it’s only through a cup of tea and a game of dominoes or bingo.”

As simple as that may sound, never has that role been performed in a better setting than the Friendship Centre which last year celebrated its 65th anniversary

Located in the heart of Knaresborough in the market square, the background to how the centre gained these magnificent listed Georgian premises with their towering chimney stacks and eight, distinctive pots is a story in itself, a story which is typical of the community spirit on show from humble to wealthy in the town over the years.

Inspired by the creation of Harrogate and District Old People’s Association in 1949, Knaresborough followed suit with the Old People’s Welfare Association the following year.

Impressed by the town’s efforts, local man of wealth Frederick Frazer, the same man who played a pivotal role in how Frazer Theatre came to be a theatre, decided the group needed its own headquarters and bought the building for it.

As John explains, a key proviso of Mr Frazer’s largesse was that the Friendship Centre mustr be run by a board of trustees and should not actuallt be owned by anyone.

John said: “The credit should go to Mr Frazer. We feel honoured to have this building. We are only the trustees and we like it that way. No one can benefit personally from being involved.”

Part drop-in centre, part reading room, everyone is welcome to pop in Monday to Saturday when the centre opens for two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon.

There is a committee of 12, which usually feeds into the choice of trustees, which, as well as John, currently includes Julian Mercer and Sue Boddy.

There’s one employee and no membership fees and that’s about it.

A registered charity dependent on donations, work is still ongoing to maintain and improve its bright and light premises which now boast very modern-looking LED spotlights to make the most of their original wooden beams.

John is now keen its impressive facilities should be utilised for even more activities and offer the elderly even more support.

John said: “We’ve got such great facilities and we want to do more with them. I’d like to open our doors longer and I know out volunteers are keen, too.”

Fusty and stuffy this group is not. Although still clearly obsessed with engineering; he mentions how the building’s boiler has just been repaired, (“a very complicated job”) John is as equally expert online and personally designed the centre’s new website two years ago.

“The elderly may not all use computers but their kids do,” is his rationale.

Even if Knaresborough Friendship Centre didn’t expand its range of operations and merely carried on the way it is now, it would still be serving a vital role.

Even the mere act of delivering the annual Christmas parcels each festive season round Knaresborough and the surrounding villages such as Goldsborough offers hope where sometimes it can be lacking.

John said: “Each year I go round buying nice things, which volunteers then we pack into parcels then, one Saturday two weeks before Christmas, all our volunteers from local churches, members of the Lions and Rotarians and individual helpers drive them round to people’s doorsteps who we know are living alone or have no one.

“It’s not so much the value of the groceries that matters, it’s that there’s someone thinking of them.”

On average a total of 300 people receive the parcels but John says this may only be the tip of the iceberg.

John said: “Based on personal experience, I reckon there are 150 people out there we don’t know about. There are at least that number who are lonely.

“But when you see the centre heaving on a Wednesday morning full of smiling faces you know we are doing some good.”