A grandfather who was bereft when his wife of 51 years was taken into a care home has praised a friendship group for its ongoing support throughout the pandemic.
John Leggett, 73, from Ipswich, said his life was turned upside down when his wife Mary went into hospital after a fall and never returned home, instead being moved into a nursing home with 24 hour care.
But he says the support of the Oddfellows – which has remained constant throughout the pandemic – has been a lifeline.
John, who is a member of the Ipswich branch of the friendly society, said: “The Oddfellows is one of the few places I go where I feel totally comfortable.
“It’s like a family, it’s lovely to just have someone to chat to, but you also get an emotional support that you can only really get from your peers or people who perhaps have been through a similar thing.
“My wife is always on my mind, but lots of people ask about her and it makes me feel good to talk about our happy memories. Our relationship has changed a lot because of the dementia but the Oddfellows is a happy constant.”
He added: “Lockdown has been hard because we can’t go to our regular meetings. The Zoom calls took a bit of getting used to, but I was given a lot of support to work it out and I know what I’m doing now.
“I’m not going out but I’m still enjoying a lovely social evening with some very pleasant company, I thought it was fantastic. What was also nice was that it was open to Oddfellows members across the country, so there was a man from London talking about the foxes and his garden, and a couple from Yorkshire talking about their experiences, it was great!”
John, who is a father of two and grandfather of five, is sharing his story as part of the Oddfellows Friendship month, which takes place every September as an opportunity for non-members to go along to a series of specially held events in order to meet members and learn about the group and its benefits.
John said even though he is able to see Mary regularly, with twice weekly video calls during lockdown, her absence from the home has left him feeling lonely and isolated, a gap which the Oddfellows goes some way to filling.
He said: “We were a very happy couple, we did everything together, so when she wasn’t there it was very uncomfortable. It’s not grief because I get to see her, but our lives have changed dramatically.
“We didn’t think about it at the time, but we were equal, we cared for each other. It’s interesting because now she’s in a care home I realise how I needed her just as much as she needed me, both for the social and the welfare side.”
John, a retired cabinet maker and landscape gardener, investigated the Oddfellows after spotting a familiar face on one of its adverts and realising it could be a great way to socialise.
He said: “I had thought about the Oddfellows and sent off for information but hadn’t really done anything about it. One day I was looking through a magazine and I saw the face of someone I knew in the advert for Oddfellows. We were friends through the RSPB so I asked her a little bit about it when I saw her next and she encouraged me to join.”
He added: “It’s been very worthwhile. I feel comforted that Mary is being looked after and my time at Oddfellows is a bit of company for me. I’ve been to other groups and they just haven’t been for me, you go in and listen to a talk or something and then that’s that. At the Oddfellows someone always comes and sits with you and has a chat, it’s lovely.”
Despite ongoing social restrictions, Oddfellows branches have revealed big plans for its annual Friendship Month celebrations.
Lynne Wyatt, Branch Secretary at the Oddfellows Ipswich Branch, said: “2020 has seen a big shift in the way we work, live and most importantly, socialise. At the Oddfellows we recognise that people still want, and need, to meet up and make new friends – whether that’s safely out in the community or from the comfort of their own home.
“Friendship Month is our annual celebration of all things related to friendship, and this year is no different. We’re still here to welcome old friends, and new. That’s why we’re encouraging people to take part in one of our events and see what we offer.”
The Oddfellows was originally set up in 1810 to offer workers and their families insurance should they fall on hard times. Today, the Society continues to provide help to its members through difficult periods, with care, welfare and financial support.
Lynne added: “Friendship isn’t just for the good times. Friends provide support through thick and thin – and so do the Oddfellows. Many people think we just put on social events, but the Oddfellows, like your friends, provides so much more.
“It’s not just lockdown that can cause people to lose touch. Bereavement, caring responsibilities, moving away, family leaving home, retirement and many other life changes can leave anyone, no matter their age, open to feelings of loneliness and isolation.”
Anyone interested in giving the group a try is invited to give them a call 01473 251 867 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Future events are also listed online at www.oddfellows.co.uk/events.
Upcoming events include an online activity ‘Get To Know The Oddfellows’ on Friday, September 4th at 2pm, and Saturday, September 12 at 10am. There is also a ‘Word Games and chat’ online event on Tuesday, September 8 at 2pm.
If members would like to take part in a socially distanced walk, ‘A Snapshot in the Park’ friendship stroll is taking place at Christchurch Mansion, Sloane Street, on Thursday, September 10 at 10.30am. Please bring along a camera or smartphone.
Please register your interest by contacting your branch.
The group’s top five ways to keep connected
Oddfellows is keen to help people, whether they’re members or not, to stay connected. The group has shared its top five ways to encourage everyone to stay in touch:
Telephone – if you’ve not heard from someone for a while, why not drop them a line? If you can’t commit to a call, even a text message would be more than welcome.
Postcards – letter writing is fast falling out of fashion, but an email or handwritten note only needs to be a few lines. If you live close, why not hand deliver? A great way to get out and get moving at the same time.
Neighbourhood watch – when was the last time you talked to your neighbours? You don’t need to be the best of friends, even a quick hello over the hedge will help you and them feel more connected.
Get online – you don’t just have to use online video conferencing to stay in touch, getting online offers lots of other ways to socialise too: find your tribe on social media, join an online hobby group, learn with an online course, follow along with an exercise class or join a chatroom. If you’re online, why not check out the Oddfellows on Facebook and Twitter.
Park life – Another great way to stay connected is to head to your local park where you could arrange to meet a friend for a socially-distanced walk or picnic. Parks are busy places – you could always try striking up a conversation with some of the familiar faces you see on your walks.