Befriending scheme’s link to second school

Thomas Gainsborough School YOPEY Befrienders
Thomas Gainsborough School YOPEY Befrienders

Another school in the Sudbury area has teamed up with a small Suffolk charity to help tackle the UK’s biggest killer – dementia.

People living longer means Alzheimer’s and other forms of the condition overtook heart disease as the most common cause of death last year.

Now Thomas Gainsborough School in Great Cornard has joined Ormiston Sudbury Academy in taking part in the YOPEY Befriender scheme.

Heart disease was responsible for 60,818 deaths, 11.5 per cent of deaths in 2015. For the first time this was overtaken by 61,686 people dying with dementia.

“The numbers dying of dementia can only get higher as we live longer,” says Tony Gearing, founder of the Stradishall-based charity YOPEY, which stands for Young People of the Year.

Mr Gearing has been setting up YOPEY Befriender schemes, where young people go into care homes and visit elderly residents, for three years.

“Typically two-thirds of residents have dementia and often relatives stop visiting as they cannot cope with the changes the diseases cause,” he said.

This autumn Tony set up the third YOPEY Befriender scheme in Suffolk – two have been running in Bury St Edmunds since last year – pairing Catchpole Court nursing home in Walnut Tree Lane, Sudbury, with the Ormiston Sudbury Academy.

Now the Thomas Gainsborough School has also joined the scheme along with a second care home, Mellish House, in Kings Hill, Great Cornard.

“Nearly 20 Thomas Gainsborough sixth-formers will be going into one care home or the other for an hour a week,” said Mr Gearing, who is a Dementia Champion with the Alzheimer’s Society.

“They have said they will do this for a year and I am sure many of them will become good friends to some of the loneliest residents.

“People with dementia can still communicate, if only visitors are patient.” Marie Smale, manager of Catchpole Court nursing home, said: “We welcome people coming in from the community to mix with their senior citizens. Our residents were particularly pleased to see young people and are looking forward to meeting them again every week.”

Director of Sixth Form Kenny Alexander said: “It’s important to get young people involved in the community. YOPEY Befriender is a great way for our students to give something back to society and connect with their elders, whilst developing such vital skills as communication, empathy and independence.

“For those seeking a career in medicine or health and social care YOPEY Befriender gives them first hand experience of working with those suffering from dementia. We’re looking forward to continuing our work with YOPEY over the coming years.”

Among the Thomas Gainsborough YOPEY Befrienders are 17-year-old Sudbury twins Chloe and Eden Arkesden. About visiting Catchpole Court care home Chloe said: “After going to the care home and seeing the smile that I put onto someone’s face today it makes me 100 per cent sure that I want to continue to volunteer there. I am also thinking about what I can do in the future.”

Eden added: “The home is incredibly welcoming with many friendly faces and gives me an opportunity to raise my confidence and share my experiences with someone whilst they share theirs with mine.”