I’m a group coordinator in Peterborough and I’ve been volunteering for around five years now.

I remember my last tea party vividly – lemon drizzle cake, hot tea, loud chatter, laughter, plates being handed round, my toddler ‘entertaining’ people with what can loosely be described as singing.

That was 14 months ago.

I’d love to tell you I’ve been filling the months in-between with regular phone calls to my older guests, sending them letters, checking in with my drivers, baking cakes to deliver to doorsteps. I know many Re-engage volunteers have been doing incredible things to keep in touch with their groups.

The truth is, I’ve found it hard to keep things together, let alone having a proper plan for my tea party group. I’ve managed some stuff – some of my group joined Call Companions and have been regularly chatting by phone to older guests. I’ve done the odd call and at Christmas I sent cards and delivered mince pies.

I feel really guilty I haven’t done more, even though I know I’ve done well just to keep most of the balls in the air.

Now we’re starting to think about tea parties restarting I’ve begun picking up the conversation with the other volunteers in my group. I found out one of our older guest’s health had declined significantly and she’s been moved into a care home. Another has dementia, and her family think a tea party would be too much for her.

Three of my volunteers aren’t able to continue anymore – although I’ve managed to persuade one to become a host (rather than continuing as a driver which felt too much for her).

I feel like everything has changed, that my group is falling apart, and daunted about unknowns, like how new variants of Covid might affect things.

Last week I spoke to one of our older guests. Her voice sounded different, I asked if she was OK. She told me she thinks her voice has changed because she’s used it so little over the last year.

I realised it doesn’t matter that things aren’t the same, or that our group is much smaller now. All that really matters is we gradually work towards getting up and running in whatever way we can.

My plan is to restart as soon as we’re able, just with those that are ready, and we’ll just go from there. Gradual is OK. Small is OK.

Even if the first tea party back ends up being just me, Barbara and a cup of tea, that’s fine. We’ll love it, and it’s a base to build on.

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