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See how a bunch of Haverhill school students and the charity YOPEY are improving the lives of older people living with dementia




Teenagers from a Haverhill school have been trained as ‘YOPEY Befrienders’ to make friends with elderly people living with dementia.

Thirteen to 14-year-olds from Castle Manor Academy were recruited by the Stradishall charity YOPEY and trained by it at The Meadows care home in Haverhill

The children, all girls, will go weekly from their school in Eastern Avenue to the care home in Brybank Road to visit the home’s residents. Some will also go at the weekend.

Castle Manor Academy students chat to residents at the Meadows care home as part of their YOPEY Befriender roles
Castle Manor Academy students chat to residents at the Meadows care home as part of their YOPEY Befriender roles

Most of The Meadows’ 50 residents have dementia, many are lonely and some do not get any visitors.

At the end of their training the 17 children were given ‘YOPEY Befriender’ badges by the charity’s founder, Tony Gearing, who was made an MBE by the Queen last year “for services to young people in the UK”.

"Having served young people," said Tony, "I now want to help young people serve the elderly and possibly create the best intergenerational scheme in the country.”

Tony said: "The partnership between Castle Manor and The Meadows is another step in what I hope will become a well trodden path between schools and care homes in Suffolk and the rest of the East of England.”

YOPEY is short for Young People of the Year. Tony has previously run Young People of the Year campaigns in Suffolk and other parts of the UK from London to Scotland.

The 17 newly-trained YOPEY befrienders from Castle Manor Academy in Haverhill. Contributed picture
The 17 newly-trained YOPEY befrienders from Castle Manor Academy in Haverhill. Contributed picture

The charity now focuses on running YOPEY Dementia Befriender schemes of which there have been about 20 across England but most are in the East of England which Tony wants to make the 'Beacon for Befriending'.

To the young volunteers from Castle Manor, Tony said: “It can be quite daunting at first to make conversation with someone with dementia.

"But following the training and with further support from YOPEY and the care home staff, I am sure the young people will be able to fill the gaps in the hearts of lonely residents.”

At the end of the training, the students met their first residents. “The home’s dining room rang to the sound of laughter and you could also see the odd tear behind held back,” said Tony.

Castle Manor headteacher Vanessa Whitcombe said: “'We are so delighted to be part of this rewarding scheme.

"Our school vision is we work hard, we are kind and we are proud, and the kindness element really shines through in this project.

“I am expecting our students to learn a great deal about working with others and understanding people.

"This will be hugely challenging and rewarding in equal measure.”

The care home’s manager Helen Selby said: “At The Meadows, we are really looking forward to the teenagers from Castle Manor visiting our residents.

"Thanks to Tony and YOPEY, we are already visited by children from Burton End Primary and we know our residents love these visits.

"We are hopeful they will enjoy the visits by the secondary school students just as much."

The two Haverhill schemes are supported by a grant from the National Lottery and Tesco ‘Bags of Help’ money from its Haverhill superstore.

The Meadows, which is rated Good by the Care Quality Commission, is owned by Minster Care Group.

For more information visit yopey.org and yopeybefriender.org.



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