Run entirely by volunteers the Club has been around since 1975 to support blind and partially sighted people in the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. In 2010, out of the blue, it was announced at one of the lunches that the club would be closing! Bill and Katie, two volunteers at the time, refused to let that happen and took on the organising.
The club runs every Thursday with the start time of 8:30am. The early start is not because that’s when lunch is served, but because the club arranges a minibus to collect all the members; an essential opportunity to chat and catch up as there’s never enough time during lunch. The first stop is Fulham where the first member is collected. After a quick greeting to her cat, Pharaoh, the next stop is a supermarket to pick up fresh bread to accompany the lunch (and any other essential items some of the members may need). Thereafter, the minibus collects each member from their home doing a loop through the borough.
The club subsidises both the lunch and transport, with the aim to keeping costs as low as possible for the members, but this club is so much more than a warm meal once per week. It has become a social outing, fostering life-long friendships and improving mental health and wellbeing by combatting isolation. Being in regular contact also means the volunteers can look out for any signs of poor health in members.
The permanent location of the club is Elgin Community Resource Centre, which has been closed for refurbishment for some time. While the centre has been closed the club has been moving locations; each week lunch is concluded with a light-hearted debate about where next week’s lunch will be taking place. Will it be a Thai restaurant, a curry house, or a traditional carvery? Anything is possible.
As exciting as it is to move locations and sample something new each week, Bill and Katie are looking forward to being back in a fixed location. A new location each week means additional challenges of checking the lighting and layout so that members are safe and comfortable. Once they are back at the Centre permanently, they will take the occasional offsite trip along with the regular trips to the seaside in the summer months, or a special Christmas outing in December.
Along with a tasty lunch, including bread and butter and pudding, there’s also a weekly raffle! The prizes are usually a packet of biscuits or a treat, but there’s never a drop in the enthusiasm in winning.
After running for years, it’s a close-knit group who look forward to catching up on the week gone by as well as family gossip and medical tips. After lunch, the raffle and a quick vote on next week’s location, it’s back into the minibus to drop everyone at home, the last member reaching their front door at 5pm.
Without a doubt the opportunity for connection and friendship is the biggest draw of the club for its members. During the restrictions of 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the club adapted with the aim of maintaining the connection with its members. Volunteers: Bill, Donna and Alyssa delivered food and essential items as well as a healthy dose of high spirits. The shopping service continues for urgent and essential items, as well as supermarket trips for members to shop independently (in the company of a volunteer), in keeping with the theme, there’s always a stop for lunch.
Carole, Lunch Club member, aged 73
“I am so grateful for the service provided by all the volunteers. The highlights of the lunches for me are meeting up with the many friends I have made since joining the Lunch Club, and having the chance to eat a lovely meal. I live alone, so to be able to go out and socialise and eat a lovely meal, brings real joy to my life. I can’t get out much, with severe vision problems. Sometimes I feel very isolated, especially since my walking difficulties developed. But I feel far less isolated now I have joined the Lunch Club. The best thing of all is the fact that we can, with support, go on excursions to restaurants outside this borough from time to time, so we experience places that we would never be able to go to on our own, this really lifts our spirits. The Lunch Club is the highlight of my week, and I really don’t know what I would do without this club. I really look forward to my Thursdays.”