Re-engage’s longest serving volunteer has just celebrated her 84th birthday and she’s still keen to keep her tea party group active.
Anne Sander was one of the first to join Trevor Lyttleton and Laurence Silman when they started taking older people to social events in 1965.
Now, 59 years later, Anne, who has multiple sclerosis, remains a driving force at the original Westminster 1 group, where she is coordinator. Anne, who lives in Watford, said: “When I first teamed-up with Trevor and Laurence I had never volunteered before. I suppose it was a bit of an adventure and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.
“I’ve had lots of fun, met many interesting people and made plenty of friends. I’ve been to hundreds of tea parties and I never get fed-up with them.
“When we began I didn’t foresee anything that could stop us and so it has proved to be. We’ve gone from strength to strength."
Anne added: “I feel very proud of what we have achieved and there’s great satisfaction in knowing we have done something worthwhile. We’ve made a lot of older people very happy and that’s nice.”
The Westminster 1 tea parties had been running for a couple of months when Laurence, and wife Nancy, asked Anne if she would like to help out. Around a dozen older people known to Trevor had attended a few gatherings at his house when Anne joined as a volunteer driver, using her trusty Ford Cortina to ferry guests around.
Anne and her sister, Rosemary, who also helped, had been encouraged to volunteer by their father, Roger, an RAF Squadron Leader, and mother Jane.
Initially there were two tea parties a month and each driver had to be accompanied by another volunteer in case the car broke down. In these situations – and before mobile phones – one volunteer would go for help while the other stayed with the older people.
Anne, who worked for the Channel Tunnel company and also spent time at Contact the Elderly, as Re-engage was then known, encouraging companies to become involved with the charity, estimates she has driven around 45,000 miles for the tea parties – nearly twice around the globe.
Trevor was invited to Number 10 Downing Street on a couple of occasions and took along a group including Anne to meet Prime Ministers Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown. During one visit they were given a tour of the Cabinet room and Mr Blair gave a talk praising the work of volunteers.
One memorable tea party was held at the home of actor Hugh Grant who had been asked to host by a volunteer who was his secretary.
“It was a marvellous occasion at a very grand house near Guildford,” explained Anne. “There was a games room, a squash court, swimming pool and he even had a helicopter which took a few guests up for a ride.”
Anne's condition forced her to give up driving four years ago but her indomitable spirit ensures she keeps the tea parties at front of mind.
She explained: “We’re always extremely keen to keep them going, but we really do need more drivers!”
Trevor Lyttleton paid tribute to the 'inimitable Anne who has always been and remains a shining star and inspirational icon for all who have been touched by her dedicated and steadfast commitment to helping combat loneliness despite increasing mobility challenges.'
Trevor said: “I can't think of a greater volunteering achievement and I can't adequately express my and the charity's debt to her, not to mention the three generations of young and elderly lives she enriched so courageously along the way.”
Since the first tea party group was launched in 1965 hundreds more have been set up in England, Scotland and Wales, currently catering for around 4,000 older people who enjoy free monthly tea and cakes, conversation and companionship.
A legacy to support happier, healthier older age
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Brews not blues
In support of the Samaritans' annual Brew Monday campaign that challenges the 'January blues', we're encouraging more people to discover the benefits of our free tea parties.