What I hope one day is that this is just commonplace, that a charity like us isn’t needed, and everyone just walks down to their local care home and says hello.
Kelly is one of life’s good people, busy and exuding energy with a smile and the willpower and panache to get things done.
We meet at a coffee shop on an estate in Norwich and have a great chat about the charity she set up with her own money and a desire to create friendships across generations.
Now it has developed and grown across Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire and only last month, Kelly received a national ITV community award for her incredible work.
This is Kelly’s story.
What is Friend in Deed?
Friend in Deed is a charity that creates friendship across generations through various schemes with the aim of reducing loneliness and promoting kindness.
We enable babies, children and young adults to visit care homes, dementia cafes, day centres and sheltered housing sites andsupport them to socialise and connect with the residents.
Our ‘Little Visitors’ scheme is just like a parent and toddler group, only in a care home. There may be instruments, toys or books to play with, and everyone interacts.
(Image: My son Nathaniel chooses ‘Big Ted’ to take to Harford Hill Dementia day care centre for the 1st time as part of the Little Visitors scheme)
What’s your background Kelly, how did the idea come about?
I was raised in Norwich and went to university in Liverpool. I wanted to join the police, but it didn’t work out and instead I started a trainee management career. I was very good at customer service and earned good money. I travelled around with the job, and I enjoyed it, but I always thought about doing something more meaningful.
My Nan was diagnosed with dementia, so I then moved back to Norwich to help my mum look after her. I saved a fair bit of money so myself and a friend travelled the world for a year.
Travelling can really open your eyes to a lot of things. It changed what I thought about money, that it’s important to have some, but ultimately, it’s better if you can use it to make a difference.
I went back into business for a while, but the drive to do something that mattered was always there, so I decided to train to become a teacher. I worked at schools in Liverpool, but my Dad became ill and I came back to Norwich and worked in behavioural schools here.
How did you start the charity?
“I knew I wanted to work with older people and I love seeing children do well.”
About 10 years ago, I had in mind to set something up that made a difference but wasn’t sure what, but I had saved up a bit of money, so I left teaching full time and did part time jobs. I did some supply teaching, events in a care home and different jobs that gave me the flexibility I wanted.
Myself and another volunteer were clearing out a garden space at a care home, and we needed some help so I set up Friend in Deed as a community group on Facebook. I just posted a note saying ‘can you help us clear this garden’ and within 3 months it looked amazing.
A couple of the residents were outside one day and I thought ‘wouldn’t it be nice if a child came along too.’ So I put another note on Facebook asking if anyone lived nearby and could come along. A lady brought her child and we were playing a hula hoop game outside and the interaction was just amazing.
One of the residents living with advanced dementia just completely came out of herself. I hadn’t seen her that happy for a long time. The extra value this child brought to the situation as I was watching them, I just thought; this is it, this is how it should be.
What difference do children make when they visit a care home?
The impact children have on older people is so interesting, it’s so deep to try to understand it and measure the social impact.
People with dementia who aren’t feeling able to connect or communicate anymore, when they see a child, they also sense a vulnerability and the focus changes from them being unwell, to being able to see someone who is possibly even more vulnerable.
When I started really watching things, I thought, what’s going on here?
If you take a baby or young toddler and put them with someone in their 80s or 90s who struggles to communicate or move, both generations have got similar constraints, they’re both struggling to express how they feel or get around, they’ve really got a lot in common.
There was a moment in a care home when a man with dementia was sat on a chair saying ‘ah, ah, ah’, and everyone was just walking around him. Then a child walked up to him and said ‘ah, ah, ah’ to his face copying him. The man then looked at the child, sat back and felt at ease. The child then ran off.
For people living with dementia, so much of it is about purpose. They don’t feel like they have any purpose anymore. They don’t feel like an individual. When children go in to visit, the older people can really give back, they play, give cuddles and feel involved and part of the community. This is so important.
What’s next for the charity?
We are now working across Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. We link up with care homes and facilitate meetings and groups. I also go into schools and teach them how easy it is to take part. As a trained teacher, I know that we could even have lessons taught in care homes and everyone could be involved.
Last year we also set up an intergenerational choir with local schools in Norwich and a care home, they sang together at The Forum, it was a very special moment.
It’s incredible because kids are just being themselves. They’re still getting all they need to learn and develop, parents don’t have to pay for it, and get the chance to socialise with others. We want to reach more parents who need that interaction as well.
You recently won a national ITV Community award for your work, what was that like?
An incredible experience. All that’s important to me is that everything we do, and the time people give; that it makes a difference, that it’s recognised and how important it is.
Going along to your local care home should be an option that everyone thinks is available. It will improve the care sector, because they’re getting more support, older people will feel more attached to the community, which they don’t at the moment and it’s great for everyone.
Kelly also volunteers for the Alzheimer’s Society and is a Dementia Champion
How YOU can get involved:
Do you and your baby/child want to help promote communities to be kinder, reduce loneliness and help older people and people living with dementia smile? Friend in Deed are looking for more babies and children of all ages to get involved in Norfolk, Cambridge, Essex and Suffolk.
Weekly event posts like this one below will appear on social media, you just need to fill in a form and register to turn up, then have a great time with new friends.