The Lady who lunches

21 November 2018 | Yorkshire and Humber

Hull Lunch Club - Jennifer Hodge

Meet the amazing 85-year-old who has been organising lunch club for older folk for 40 years.

Sprightly Jennifer Hodge, 85, has been arranging lunch clubs for the elderly week in and week out for the last 40 years. And she has no intention of stopping or even slowing down even though she admits she might need a walking stick to carry on these days.

“Who doesn’t at my age,” she laughs. This extraordinary pensioner runs the Cottingham Darby and Joan Lunch Club in Hull. Her service to the community helps stem the kind of isolation many older people feel.

Not only does she, and her team of volunteers, serve up lunch every Friday for around 15 older folk, but she organises a minibus to go and pick them up so they don’t miss out.

“The club gets people out and widens the friendship circle. It’s all about companionship. Let’s face it, it can get very lonely. I lost my own husband a few years ago, so I know what it’s like to be lonely. If it wasn’t for my television set and the club to organise I’d go bonkers.

“It is the same for the people who come to the club. If they didn’t come here they might not see anyone all week long. I am thankfully still fit, but if you are not fit, and you can’t get out, it can be awful. One of my neighbours has two sons who live abroad. She is bereft and on her own all the time. Clubs like mine help people like that.”

The lunch club is one of many across the country launched by the Royal Voluntary Service. The lunch clubs offer members a regular chance to eat a healthy, hot meal in the company of others and provide opportunities to make friends, build a support system and maintain social connections.

Last month, in a fresh bid to get more people to volunteer and open lunch clubs in their local area, they started the ‘Cooking for a Crowd’ campaign after research found that a third of people over 70 were eating half their weekly lunches and dinners with no company.

Eating alone can have a detrimental impact on health with nearly one in five saying they eat less healthily if dining by themselves. So the new campaign is shining a light on the hundreds of volunteers who run 76 lunch clubs up and down the country, serving more than 50,000 meals each year to older people in the community.

Jennifer joined when her mother died. “I needed to keep busy and this was perfect. I don’t know when I will stop. Once you start something, that’s it, you just carry on. Anyway, I love it.”

Most of her lunch club members are in their 80s, although the oldest is 98, and can’t drive anymore, so the minibus collects them from all over the Cottingham area. The bus was paid for out of donations and those who use it pay a little towards the petrol.

“We have to do three runs in the minibus because so many of the members have a walking frame and we can’t fit more than a handful in the bus at any one time. That’s old age for you.

“But it’s not just me doing the work - it’s a team effort. I have lots of volunteers and we all have our roles. One volunteer is 92 years old… older than me! Her job is to dollop the gravy on the lunch. Another puts out the cutlery.”

But it’s not just lunch they come for. “The afternoon is for entertainment too. Whatever I can organise. Singers, or speakers, or bingo. And if I can’t think of anything else, I’ll do a quiz. For me - and I know the others - it gives us all a focus and a place to be on a Friday,” smiles Jennifer.

“Us volunteers also get so much back. When you are alone with nothing to do, one day can merge into another. We all know we have Fridays where we will be with others, be able to catch up, chat and laugh. That is a Godsend.

“One of the ladies who comes along, told me, ‘Oh Jennifer, Friday’s really are the best day of the week.’ That really put a smile on my face.”