Every Tuesday afternoon the bright and airy church hall of the Dore and Totley United Reformed Church is filled with non-stop natter as local residents meet up for lunch club.
There is a slight break in the chatter when the elderly attendees tuck into a delicious meal, especially prepared by the club’s caring volunteers.
Smiles and laughter are aplenty - but back in their homes that isn’t always the case, as most of the club’s members live alone and are at risk of social exclusion.
For many, a visit from the postman might be the only human interaction they have all week.
And for some it’s because they have little or no contact with family or friends, while others suffer from long standing illnesses or have limited mobility, that is preventing them from leaving the house.
Nobody can be certain just how many lonely elderly people there are hidden behind closed doors across Sheffield, but when Vivienne Filleul, founder of the Dore and Totley Lunch Club, came into contact with one isolated resident it prompted her to help as many as she could.
Vivienne said: “I was collecting for Christian Aid as a church volunteer when I came across a lovely lady who was confined to her home in a wheelchair, not even able to answer the door.
“After a time of befriending her I was moved by her situation and realised there must be others like her, and thoughts of somewhere for them to go formed in my head.”
Vivienne had difficulty finding somewhere to accommodate her selfless venture until a room became available at the United Reformed Church in 1973, which enabled her to progress.
The following year the lunch club opened its doors for the first time, with an impressive 50 volunteers keen to help the elderly and housebound escape their homes and interact with others in the local area.
This year marks the club’s 40th anniversary and goes to show how one person with a little help from their friends can make a real difference to improving the lives of others.
Vivienne said: “I didn’t expect it to go on quite so long but I’m glad it has.
“We’ve been short on volunteers at times but we’ve always had enough to carry on and I hope it continues for many more years to come.”
In its early days the club catered for around four housebound residents a week, with volunteers ferrying attendees to and from their homes.
But as news of the service spread, and transport facilities improved, the group welcomed more elderly people.
Today 12 regulars from Totley, Dore and Bradway attend the club each week, collected and dropped off by local community transport service Transport 17.
Among the residents enjoying a summer feast of meat, new potatoes and fresh salad at the club’s 40th anniversary lunch, were Gwen Copp and Doris Smith. The two ladies have become best friends through the club having first pulled up their chairs there six years ago.
Gwen, aged 84, from Totley, said: “I live alone and have to have a wheelchair so I can’t get out alone, not even to go to the shops.
“It can make you feel very miserable not having anyone to talk to from day to day, which is why I enjoy coming to the club so much.
“I’ve made a great friend in Doris – we just took to each other. As well as seeing each other here we talk on the phone and check up on one another.
“I really look forward to coming here each week and really miss it on the odd occasion it’s not on.”
Doris, 89, from Dore, who also lives alone, said: “I don’t know what I would do without the group – I’ve made so many friends here and the volunteers are fantastic.
“As well as giving us a lovely meal we often have entertainment or chairobics to help keep us fit.”
To mark the club’s milestone, a special commemorative plaque was unveiled by club chairman Ron Webber. Past and present volunteers were also invited to a thanksgiving service and afternoon tea to celebrate the anniversary.
Vivienne added: “During these past 40 years I have met many great people, visitors and volunteers - without whom the group would not exist. It’s weird that when you decide to give away part of yourself to help others, how you seem to get even more in return.”