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'You've brightened their lives' - Ipswich teenagers make wonderful friends with elderly in befriending scheme

PUBLISHED: 10:15 19 December 2019 | UPDATED: 23:40 22 December 2019

Northgate High School students have been visiting elderly residents at The Willows care home as part of the YOPEY Befriender scheme. Picture: PAUL SANWELL

Northgate High School students have been visiting elderly residents at The Willows care home as part of the YOPEY Befriender scheme. Picture: PAUL SANWELL

© Paul Sanwell (2019). email: op_photographic@btinternet.com

You might think that such a vast gulf in age would make it difficult for young and old to be friends.

Northgate High School students have been visiting elderly residents at The Willows care home as part of the YOPEY Befriender scheme. Picture: PAUL SANWELLNorthgate High School students have been visiting elderly residents at The Willows care home as part of the YOPEY Befriender scheme. Picture: PAUL SANWELL

But these teenagers from Ipswich have confounded all stereotypes of young people - by building powerful friendships with elderly residents at a nearby care home, even though they are generations apart.

Since April, 11 sixth-form students at Northgate High School have been visiting residents at The Willows care home.

They have generously given more than 500 hours of their time over 250 visits to the Crabbe Street home in a bid to provide companionship for the residents, many of whom live with dementia.

One student, Holly Airey, even gave 130 hours of her time.

Northgate High School students have been visiting elderly residents at The Willows care home as part of the YOPEY Befriender scheme. The cake is cut at a celebration event. Picture: PAUL SANWELLNorthgate High School students have been visiting elderly residents at The Willows care home as part of the YOPEY Befriender scheme. The cake is cut at a celebration event. Picture: PAUL SANWELL

Now the youngsters have been presented with certificates by the Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk, Clare Countess of Euston, to officially mark their "retirement" from the scheme.

However many of the students at the Sidegate Lane West school say the friendships have made a lasting impression on their lives.

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Libby Moss said her time with residents Rita and Irene had "helped me to learn and grow", adding: "I do feel that I built a relationship with them."

Northgate High School students have been visiting elderly residents at The Willows care home as part of the YOPEY Befriender scheme. Pictured is YOPEY founder Tony Gearing with a resident. Picture: PAUL SANWELLNorthgate High School students have been visiting elderly residents at The Willows care home as part of the YOPEY Befriender scheme. Pictured is YOPEY founder Tony Gearing with a resident. Picture: PAUL SANWELL

Care home residents also said the students make them feel "part of life again", as they connected with "someone coming in from outside".

The Willows' activities coordinator Linda Wade told the young people: "You have brightened the lives of the residents so much."

YOPEY founder Tony Gearing, who set up the scheme, is hoping to make Suffolk a "beacon for befriending" which is recognised across the UK.

After a presentation of the certificates at The Willows' library, he said: "This was the best scheme in the country and I wanted it to be officially recognised, so I invited the Lord Lieutenant, the Queen's highest representative in Suffolk, to meet the young people.

Northgate High School students have been visiting elderly residents at The Willows care home as part of the YOPEY Befriender scheme. Picture: PAUL SANWELLNorthgate High School students have been visiting elderly residents at The Willows care home as part of the YOPEY Befriender scheme. Picture: PAUL SANWELL

"I was so pleased when the Lord Lieutenant's office said she would attend. The Lord Lieutenant told me she could see the two very different generations were getting on wonderfully."

Teacher Joe Watson, assistant headteacher of Northgate's sixth form, told the 17 and 18-year-olds: "We should also thank Tony, without whom you would not have been given the opportunity on this wonderful scheme."

YOPEY, which is based in Stradishall, near Haverhill, is now looking for another Ipswich care home that Northgate High School students can visit in 2020.

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