Dennis (Community Time Camden and CHAPS member)
I didn’t know about the centre for ages actually despite living a stones throw away! I must have seen some leaflets in the library or shops. I love walking so I decided to go along to the Wednesday Walks, which is a social walking group who meet weekly for about an hour and a half and it went from there.
What’s a typical week?! Well the pingpong is a crucial item in my calendar. And Boccia on Fridays of course. We had 15 people today. We take it very seriously! We’ve won the last few tournaments in Camden. And the walks and the men’s cooking too – I enjoy that. My kids say I’m a good cook!
The centre has a great atmosphere created by the volunteers and staff. I’ve never witnessed a shouting match here which is unusual when you’ve got a lot of people in one place! I see it as an extended family now, that’s how I look at it. You make new friends. I look forward to every week.
Our men’s afternoon has just started (Men’s Barbershop, 1.30pm – 3.30pm on Fridays) today and already there’s bonding going on! We had a laugh. We’ll definitely come back next week.
Some men find it difficult to come along, especially if they live alone. For whatever reason, they withdraw. You get into a comfort zone, getting your breakfast, watching the telly. I would tell these men that you live longer if you get out and socialise. I’m trying to persuade a friend from church to come along at the moment, he doesn’t get out much apart from church so I’m working on it.
I’d honestly describe the centre as lifesaving! It’s the question of, what would we be doing if we weren’t involved here? Being a part of CHAPS makes a massive, massive, massive difference. You’re exposed to new activities and people of new backgrounds. You meet new people and then when you see them on the street you extend pleasantries and get to know each other. The way I see it, it’s a home.
Kidist was recently announced as one of our 'Exceptional Contribution' volunteers here at Abbey, meaning she has contributed over 100 hours of her time helping out at our creche and soft-play drop-in.
Kidist is originally from Ethiopia so volunteering has helped her build up her English and meet people in the community. She also used Children's Services herself: 'It helped me so much while my children were growing up and I wanted to give something back. When you're a new parent there's no rulebook handed to you and it was so good to have a support network here.'
Volunteering at Children's Services is also a great way to build up professional experience - her friend Muitun, another creche volunteer, says that she found a paid childcare job in May thanks to her experiences at Abbey.
I retired in 1998, did some part time work here and there. I live alone. Up until 2002 my family lived close by in Harrow but then moved out to Bristol. My friends, who I used to live with in a house-share, all got married and settled down, apart from a couple of us! And as the years went by a few of them passed away, as tend to happen when you’re 85. I’ve always been welcome to visit everyone, but it wasn’t as easy as before to socialise.
Then about 6 years ago, I had a triple bypass and was putting on weight, so my GP thought it was a good idea for me to go to these over 60s fitness classes. That’s when I first came to the Abbey. Then I saw ‘IT for Beginners’ in the newsletter and decided to go along. I felt a whole new energy when I started attending new activities… men having fun together and learning lots.
Tech Buddies and the Men’s IT Drop ins are absolutely brilliant. When I was doing audit courses as part of my job (I started training in chartered accountancy aged 39), I was always the slowest, the young ones were always racing through! Having 1-2-1 support helps so much. And Gavin has volunteers who speak Bengali, Hindi and other languages which is great for people who attend who don’t speak as much English. It’s wonderful to hear the younger and older people laughing and joking away in their language.
I also go to Men’s Cooking on a Tuesday. Everyone enjoys it so much and we have a lovely meal together. I’m not a misogynist but when I saw it was men-only I jumped at it. Sometimes lots of women can be intimidating – maybe I’ve lived alone too long! If it hadn’t been men-only I don’t think I would have come. I went to a Tai Chi class once for my balance, but it was mostly women so I didn’t go back. I’m just more comfortable with men, we have banter and a laugh. I love it, it’s great fun. Everyone chips in with their own job and donates a little something to the kitchen. Some of the other men live alone too and it makes such a difference to them.
It’s like one big family. Everyone has a welcoming attitude. When you come in, people will say hi to you, even if they don’t know your name. Sometimes people bring vegetables from nearby allotments and put it out in the foyer for everyone to come and take some – brilliant! And at the café you can get a £2 meal… the place is full of outsiders who come in for the lunch. I don’t know anywhere else like this. I wish I’d known about it before. And things like the raffles are such fun, they bring people together when otherwise they might be sitting in their corners feeling shy, you know. Happy. People are really happy here. I can’t wait for the Abbey now.
Jean (Community Time Camden member)
I found out about Abbey Community Centre when I saw an advert for crotchet classes on the bus stop! In the end I didn’t end up going to crotchet but joined almost everything else… I’ve been coming to the centre for about two and a half years now.
Tuesdays is keep fit at 1pm, followed by bingo and then Re-cycle-art at 4pm—so it’s 1—6pm on Tuesdays! On Fridays I come along to coffee morning and Boccia. Oh, and a few of us, Violet and Connie and so on, we go to the pictures now on Mondays. Simone also organises wonderful trips for the art group like to Hampton Court and Kew.
Everyone at Community Time Camden is just lovely, so friendly. And all the staff are so amicable. Abbey's open almost every day now which is great.
When I first came along I was quite scared—I thought people might be judgemental or rude. But it’s not like that here. Everyone accepts you for who you are. The centre’s like a party everyday!
George (Kilburn Good Neighbours volunteer)
George, 31, has lived in Camden for the past four years, moving to the West Hampstead area two and a half years ago. He works as a lawyer in Wembley. George came across the opportunity to volunteer with Kilburn Good Neighbours online and has been visiting his befriendee, Wael (69), once a week for over a year now.
They meet for an hour and chat about everything – from history and politics to football (‘though Wael prefers rugby’, George adds). “I learn so much from Wael – his knowledge of history and languages in particular is unbelievable.” George also comments that seeing Wael is a relaxing way to spend time as it gives you a different perspective on life.
Wael feels the same. ‘It’s good to see how younger people think… about politics, fashion and everything else. I’m 69 so most of the people I know are over 50 and George is my link to a younger generation, I’d have no connection otherwise. Although we found out that George’s girlfriend likes the same 60s and 70s music as me, like Fleetwood Mac!’
As well as the joy of learning from each other and widening their social networks (George has now met some of Wael’s friends and vice versa) Wael is especially grateful for George’s companionship as he has difficulty walking nowadays. ‘For someone in my situation, if you want someone to talk to, Kilburn Good Neighbours is the best way to get an introduction to someone. It’s very hard to meet anyone new otherwise.’
And George is equally happy to be a part of the scheme. ‘You definitely get more out of it than you put in.’
May (Trustee, photographer, all-round Abbey superstar!)
I must have discovered Abbey 19 or 20 years ago now! In 1992 I attended a Christmas Party at the centre. There I met Nicki who got a few of us to come along to the Keep Fit classes that were running at the time.
Nowadays I do a few things at Abbey. Tuesday is fitness class and I do the register. Friday is CTC coffee morning and I also go to the Saturday cafe sometimes. I’ve done photography at the centre for a few years. Thanks to everyone who has let me take their photo each month—it’s very much appreciated.
I'm on the Board too. We meet every two months to have a say in how the centre is run and throw ideas into the pot. The Abbey Board is made up of trustees who want the best for ACC, I feel very privileged to be a part of it and to work alongside Lindsay and the staff. You get a kick out of knowing you’re helping people.
I've been a part of Kilburn Good Neighbours for a few years. Frank does my windows—when he first came along they hadn’t been done for years! KGN always finds a solution for you and does a great job—when I was ill Joanna came to visit and said she could find someone to do my shopping. Don’t know what I’d do without them. And we have lovely cream teas.
Being part of Abbey Community Centre is like being part of a family. You meet friends new and old, have a chat, a good laugh and a nice cup of tea. The centre also gives you a chance to do things you've never done before and to keep healthy and active. And the parties are good! It gives you something to look forward to every week.
John is one of those people at Abbey who does a bit of everything. He joined us three and a half years ago after working for 25 years in the film, theatre and television industry and studying for 3 years at Birkbeck for a diploma in counselling and psychology. At the moment you can find him practicing his ‘mwa ha hah’s and ‘oh no she didn’t’s for the Abbey panto, which he directs, acts in and builds the set for. He also built the famous Abbey tombola! Unlike many of us however, John doesn’t live in Camden but comes to us from St Albans, where he also volunteers with a Buddhist centre as Chapter Leader.
"I was volunteering in Camden as a befriender for a charity but they went bust, so I was put in touch with Joanna and started volunteering with Kilburn Good Neighbours instead. I’m still doing that now. It just involves having a chat with someone who for whatever reason can’t leave their home very much. Anyway, soon I found out about everything else that goes on at the centre—coffee morning was first thing and it went from there.
I do my befriending on Wednesdays. I also occasionally used to come in for Men’s Cookery on Tuesdays. Coffee mornings on Fridays, followed by boccia—I referee for it. At the moment we’re also doing rehearsals for the Abbey Panto Dick Whittington, which I’m directing and acting in!
Abbey is different, haha. I think it’s great – very satisfying and I get great pleasure out of helping other people. I actually come all the way from St Albans! Come and join in the fun. The social aspect of it is great for making really good friends and getting you out and about with other people who care."
Volunteering at the café is fantastic. I’ve been volunteering since 8th September. Jenny and Laura who run it are brilliant, I don’t know anyone else like them. I’ve learned lots of new skills like how to cut different fruits and I’ve learned more about food hygiene, so I know more about what to do in the kitchen at home now. My favourite things to do are to chop the veg and use the machine which slices the carrots.
I have liver disease and the doctor has told me to cut down on fried food. At the café I always have a jacket potato, and I learned how they cook them to make them tasty. So now that encourages me to cook these dishes at home.
I’m not looking for work at the moment because of my health problems (I’m ill and have chronic pain), but if I was, I know they would help me with a reference and I also have more experience on my CV now. If I’m ever ill at the café, Jenny says have a rest or go home, they’re really good at looking after the volunteers.
I hope the café continues for a good old time. If it stopped I’d really miss it. I turn up every Saturday at 8.30 and wait for Jenny to get here, she relies on me to get there early, and also I’m the best at doing the cleaning afterwards. I love it, everyone’s friendly and we get a free lunch. I come every Saturday, if it was open other days I would come then too! I recommended it to everyone on Facebook!
Olufunso (Admin volunteer)
Olufunso has been a volunteer at Abbey Community Centre for almost 4 years now and he loves it! “I get support here!”
With a mental health issue, Olufunso has been alternating work and education for the last 15 years. What really gets him going is being able to perform his work independently after been shown the way once.
At Abbey Community Centre, he does 4 hours a week of data entry, keeping track of time credit as well as the kind of activity received by each; a very necessary job which brings about a fulfilling sense of self-worth.
Marcella (Tech Buddies volunteer)
I've been volunteering for Tech Buddies since September 2017. When I was a student I came along 3 days a week; I found a job while I was volunteering so now just come along for the Saturday session. I loved the idea behind Tech Buddies and I love helping people, especially older people who need support. It's so nice to see their increased confidence and to have them begin to confide in you. The role feels really valuable.
I've helped Tech Buddy members with everything from turning phones on and opening up apps to helping them choose a new phone. I've learned more about how to treat people; to be more patient and calm; to go over things a few times if necessary and to write things down to help people learn.
The best thing was when a lady I hadn't seen for a while recognised me from before and was really excited, saying 'You helped me for the first time!' and she was now really engaged with her tech and finding it so much easier.
I'm from Brazil and I originally thought that in the UK there was less of a culture of looking after older people. In Brazil older people are always with someone whereas here you see them walking around on their own all the time. But everyone at the Abbey is so kind and helpful and it's so nice to see how they take care of older people.
About 3 years ago, I asked about community centres in Willesden Green Library and found out about Abbey. I was a bit shy at first but everyone made me feel welcome. Once I got to know people I found they were just like me—up for fun and up for a laugh. Nowadays I go to bingo, coffee morning, Boccia, dancing, Re-cycle-art… I also come to Saturday Cafe and the trips too.
Being part of CTC is terrific! And that’s because of the people—everyone is so helpful and compassionate. If someone’s ill, we’ll all club together to get them a card. I’m also a volunteer befriender for Kilburn Good Neighbours, visiting a lady once a week, every Thursday. We have a laugh. I was motivated to do that because there’s a lot of lonely older people out there stuck at home. I get out and about a lot, but one day (touch wood!) I might not be able to do that.
I've made some brilliant friends here, there are a group of us who go to the cinema together every week now and we all met at Abbey.
Come along to Abbey if you want to enjoy yourself and have fun! There’s nothing boring about the Abbey!
Kafia (Volunteer Receptionist)
Kafia has been a volunteer receptionist at Abbey since Feb 2017 – covering the phones, being the first point of contact for people who visit the centre, organising room bookings, liaising with our tutors and users, overseeing activities taking place and basically doing a bit of everything!
‘I found out about the volunteering opportunities at Abbey at a volunteer fair. I was looking for something with a specific benefit to my skills in terms of going back into employment – I had been out of work for a while for various reasons. Beforehand I’d always worked in customer services so the Reception role at Abbey seemed perfect for refreshing and keeping up my skills. I’m good with people but I need to keep practising other stuff like computer skills so they don’t fall by the wayside. I think that when I am able to start looking for jobs again, my experience here will definitely make me feel ready for it.
I like that the role involves building rapport with different people from different backgrounds, whether that’s someone from the local authority or a partner organisation, or an older person who comes in to one of our activities. My favourite element of the role is doing call-rounds – encouraging older people to come along to our trips and events. Some of them might not have had a call for a while but when you start chatting they get comfortable with you, you can hear it in their voice. Older people can lose confidence if they spend a lot of time alone so it’s lovely to do that for them. I was a dementia companion volunteer for 2 and a half years prior to this and I think it’s so important to engage elderly people and help them stay physically and mentally active.
I really like it here because it’s such a friendly and warm environment. It’s like a little family – you see people regularly and they’re such a diverse group of people, and that’s really important.'