'Proud of them all' - meet the amazing Ipswich teenagers who are UK's leading care home befrienders
© Paul Sanwell (2019). email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kind-hearted teenagers at Ipswich's Northgate High School are setting an inspiring example to adults by visiting a care home to provide friendship for elderly people - making them the nation's leading befrienders.
The 11 year-13 students at the Sidegate Lane West school have visited The Willows care home, in nearby Crabbe Street, more than 250 times since March as part of the YOPEY charity's befriending scheme.
The 500 hours they have volunteered between them have made them the "leading YOPEY befrienders in the country", according to charity founder Tony Gearing.
John Alexander, head of Northgate High's sixth form, said: "It has been a privilege for our students to take part in this fantastic scheme - they have learnt so much that can't be taught in a classroom.
"I am very proud of them all."
About two-thirds of The Willows' 60-plus residents have dementia. Many are lonely and some do not get any visitors.
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A spokeswoman for the care home said: "The YOPEY befrienders are a real asset to The Willows."
She said the residents, who do not have dementia or are in the early stages of the condition, look forward to the next visits and that those with advanced dementia are made happier by the young people.
YOPEY, which stands for Young People of the Year, is based in Stradishall near Bury St Edmunds but has worked all over the UK.
It is now focused on the East of England and wants to make its home county "the beacon for befriending".
The charity's founder Tony Gearing, who has been made a MBE for services to young people in the UK, said: "I want to make young people in Suffolk the best befrienders in the country.
"We have other YOPEY befriender schemes in Haverhill, Newmarket and Sudbury and are setting up ones in other parts of Suffolk, but currently the YOPEY befriender scheme in Ipswich is the best in the county and the best in the country.
"You can see the Ipswich young people, Northgate High and The Willows care home topping all the league tables on the stats page of our website yopeybefriender.org"
The charity is applying for grants to continue the Ipswich project for another year and wants to start more YOPEY dementia befriender projects in the town.