Deborah first started volunteering for Re-engage in 1988 when she was 27 years old and living in London, working as a personal assistant for a head-hunter in Maida Vale. She was introduced to Re-engage by an Australian friend who she worked with at the time and she and her husband signed up to drive for and co-ordinate local tea parties. Over the years she has volunteered as a tea party driver, host and group coordinator in different parts of the UK. Today, at 61, she is a host for her local tea party group in Bristol.
Deborah got in touch to share her volunteer journey with us.
Being a driver in London
Being a driver in central London brought about its own challenges. All in a good way. Firstly, there was always serious traffic, so I would always need to give myself lots of time to drive from Fulham, where I was living at the time, to pick up my ladies. Back then we had no sat nav to rely on and my companions couldn’t read a map. Thankfully, they never minded because they were on a jolly good trip out and when we got to our lovely host’s house, they’d enjoy a splendid afternoon tea. Many of our hosts lived in houses off the A3 in Surrey - we also had a host who lived Putney and another in Shepherd’s Market. Driving in those days meant I started out at midday and usually got home by 6.30pm, if I was lucky with the traffic.
Today I enjoy driving guests most of all as I get to meet people regularly and am invited into the homes of our different hosts, which is always a privilege. People who open up their homes, open their hearts.
A memorable tea party in Shepherd’s Market
Our Shepherd’s Market tea parties were some of the most memorable ones. We were always welcomed at Christmas, the host dressing up as Santa and heaving a large sack full of Christmas presents for everyone. It was very much a family affair, with the host’s mother always starting and ending with a popular 1940’s song called Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positives (written by Johnny Mercer). The same host had another property in Surrey where he liked to host a summer tea party so we could all enjoy his fabulous garden. It was as good at Kew Gardens.
Hertfordshire tea parties
I paused my volunteering for a while because I had commitments that didn’t leave me with much free time, but in 2003 I was settled in a house in Hertfordshire with a family and at last I could host for the first time. Finally, I had a property that had ground floor access and a downstairs toilet. I hosted for ten years, stepping in a couple of times to drive if the group was short of drivers. I was very fortunate that we were surrounded by National Trust Woodland and a golf course, so my tea parties went down particularly well in the Spring and Summer months as the guests very much enjoyed being outside.
Moving to Bristol
In 2012 I once again upped sticks and moved to Bristol. We were originally in a rental property that wasn’t suitable for hosting tea parties but when we moved into our present house, I was able to start hosting once again. The first tea party I hosted here in Bristol was in my local village hall as we were undergoing building work and I wasn’t going to put off hosting longer than I had to.
Making cakes and entertaining
I love making cakes and entertaining. I really enjoy knowing that I’m making a small difference to the lives of others. I always make sure I give my guests a little goody bag with a few extra sandwiches and treats, so when they finally go home they then can sit down and put the kettle on, knowing that they have something to eat if they still feel a little peckish.
To that end I hope to continue to host until such times that I can then swap places and finally become a guest myself. I think I have another fourteen years to wait!
A pudding fit for a queen.
In honour of the Queen in her Platinum Jubilee year, Fortnum and Mason launched a nationwide competition to find a recipe for a pudding fit for a queen. Jemma Melvin's recipe for Lemon Swiss Roll and Amaretti Trifle was awarded the title of “platinum pudding” for the this month's jubilee celebrations.
Meet call companion Erin
Becoming aware of how isolated an older neighbour felt during the pandemic prompted 21-year-old Erin to get in touch with Re-engage. Today, Erin is one of our call companion volunteers and a wonderful example of the positive impact of bringing different generations together.