SHARING a meal is one of life's most enjoyable pleasures. Now this simple principle has been extended to help older people in York socialise and meet new people. Kate Liptrot reports.

IT'S something Pauline Buchanan had been thinking about for a while.

Conscious of a sense of isolation among some older people - and no shortage of clubs and classes to attend in York - she sensed a need for a social group where people could chat and enjoy a meal.

The simple idea turned into the Food & Fun lunch group for over-50s which is already becoming popular at Clements Hall.

"The atmosphere has been great and I have realised it has done me good," Pauline, a board member of York Older Peoples' Assembly, said, "I have a core group coming now.

"Everyone knows someone who could 'get out more. Maybe a relative, acquaintance, ex-colleague or simply that person down the street who doesn't seem to be around as much as they used to be. Why not accept the challenge and bring him or her to Clements Hall."

The 70-year-old former advocacy worker has been supported by Community York in her aim to help people avoid a sense of isolation in their community.

"I have got a very busy life and I'm not socially inadequate," Pauline said, "but I can find the weekends are a challenge unless I have booked something to do in advance.

"Stopping working is one of the big things - you can lose your identity and lose your activity and what made you, you. And then what are you going to do?"

According to a study by the relationship charity Relate, millions of people across the UK are affected by loneliness. The research found one in ten people felt they didn’t have one close friend and that 19 per cent had never or rarely felt loved in the two weeks before the survey.

Furthermore, another recent study found loneliness can be twice as unhealthy as obesity, according to researchers who found that feelings of isolation can have a devastating impact on older people.

But Pauline is adamant the word 'loneliness' - increasingly discussed by Government and organisations - is not one that should be used, suggesting it carries unnecessary social stigma.

"We realise what an absolute, outright killer isolation can be," she said, adding, "No-one will admit to being lonely although they will admit to being isolated."

She emphasises that those who attend the twice monthly events don't have to feel isolated to attend, just may want to meet new people, or could take along others.

After lunch, there is entertainment from playing cards to going to the cinema but the focus remains on sharing food and chatting.

"People used to congregate more and socialise more, now there are not the same opportunities," Pauline said, "Getting together over food is one of the most basic pleasures in life. When I was dreaming up this project I thought step one should be a meal."

- If you would like to head along to the next Food & Fun event, go to Clements Hall in Nunthorpe Road, on this Wednesday and September 3. The twice monthly get-togethers run on Wednesdays from 12 to 3pm and a meal costs a contribution of £2.

Everyone is welcome, including people with dementia and their carers.

To guarantee your meal pop in, or ring Clements Hall in advance on 01904 466086.