For many disabled people and carers, an Aberdeen social club was their weekly highlight – then the pandemic took it all away.
Hardworking volunteers from Aberdeen’s Future Choices charity rallied round to take the lunch group virtual during lockdown, while everyone involved counted the days until it came back.
And now members have expressed their joy after being reunited, as their weekly social returned at Inchgarth Community Centre in Garthdee.
‘Will we ever see our friends again?’
Future Choices chairman David Forbes, who got involved with the charity as he is a carer for his mum, described the pandemic as a “hammerblow” for the club and he “hoped and prayed” for the charity’s survival.
Mr Forbes added: “One minute we were saying ‘ see you next week’ and the next we were asking ‘will we ever see our friend again?”
For many, the club is the only time they leave the house, so organisers felt it essential they adapt during lockdown.
“It was a massive adjustment,” said Mr Forbes.
He added: “We had to keep everybody together. We started up Zoom calls on a Tuesday.
“A lot of our members are vulnerable and don’t have internet so for them we went back to phone calling.
“It’s amazing how one phone call to someone vulnerable can just make their day – make them feel their still cared for in the community.
“As for the club – we didn’t know if it would survive.”
‘Like winning the lottery’
With the easing of restrictions, Future Choices was given the green light to relaunch weekly lunch socials – and it was up to Mr Forbes to break the happy news to members.
He said: “When I phoned people to say ‘how do you fancy coming back for a lunch?’ They felt like they had won the lottery.
“People are wrapped in so many emotions – happiness, joy, excitement.
“The night before, they are looking forward to coming along. It is their lifeline.
“Without getting overwhelmed, it’s quite emotional for me to see everyone back.
“A lot of people have said – ‘it’s different seeing you on a screen’. That’s made all the difference.”
About 20 people have been able to attend the club to have some stovies and a enjoy a cuppa – and organisers hope to welcome more when restrictions ease.
Among those attending the latest get-together was former councillor, Maureen Irons, 78, Rosehill.
She said: “I first really got involved as a member a few years ago.
“I was going through very bad depression because of bereavement and illness.
“I had got to the stage where I wanted to be alone all the time.”
After finding out about the social group via a contact she knew as a councillor, Mrs Irons went along.
‘It gave me a new lease of life’
She said: “I was talking to people who understood how I was feeling as they had been through it themselves.
“I can’t put into words how much they have given me. It gave me a new lease of life.
“I came every week – there was entertainment and pet therapy – I thoroughly enjoyed it all.
“We once had a most wonderful exhibition of owls – they were just amazing creatures.
“I never realised that one day I would be so grateful the people at the club exist.”
Like with many, Mrs Irons’s life was turned upside down by Covid-19.
She said: “With the pandemic, you were just wondering ‘what on earth is going to happen?’
“It not only closed down society but it also closed down your life.
“I wasn’t able to join in with the Zoom calls but several people from the club phoned me just about every week, which was good.
“Being back has been marvellous.
“We just all chatted and chatted. It was wonderful to see the faces of the other people.
“To call out to your friends and wave at each other. You felt like kids just got in from play time. It was a wonderful feeling.
“Many thanks to David who is just a tower of strength.”
Also coming along were Kincorth couple Jim and Kathleen Rust.
‘I’ve lost over 2st through worry’
Mr Rust, 83, said: “My wife went to bed one night, woke up in the morning and I found her on the floor.
“She had problems with her legs and has been wheelchair bound for five years.
“I found out about the club through the Sue Ryder charity and we’ve made friends that we never knew before.
“Getting out of the house – even just once a week – before Covid-19 was absolutely heaven.
“Things went right downhill for us last March.
“Our grandchildren would visit, leave a parcel for us and then go – that was hard for us.
“In that time, I’ve lost over 2st through pure stress and worry. But things are now on the up and up.”
Describing their experience at the club, Mr Rust added: “It’s nice to be back and laughing again.
“The camaraderie has been beyond belief. Even just to take your mind off things for a couple hours a week is great.
“It’s been an enormous help to me and my wife.”
Future Choices struggled to balance the books during lockdown but managed to switch from in-person raffles, such as those organised by teenager Lewis McGregor, to online activities to keep some funds coming in.
Mr Forbes said; “We have seen a dramatic decrease in funding but, despite that, the public support we have had is incredible.”
Visit future-choices.org.uk or click here to find out more about the charity.