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Who’ll help Marjorie? Fears as funding is cut for ‘Good Neighbours’ scheme

Fund-raising appeal for match-up service which combats isolation among elderly

04 June, 2018 — By Tom Foot

Marika Freris and Marjorie Burrell at Ms Burrell’s Hampstead home

MARJORIE Burrell can recite a John Masefield poem word-for-word as if she had learned it only yesterday. The sea-inspired rhymes of the 1930s former Poet Laureate stir distant memories of happy childhood holidays on the south coast.

But, aged 92, Ms Burrell’s faculties are failing and she lives alone in Hampstead without any family to look after her. She depends on Marika Freris, who she met through the NW3 Good Neighbours scheme, for companionship. It matches volunteers with isolated elderly people who share similar interests – but is facing closure.

Age UK Camden, which runs the scheme, has stopped taking new referrals after Big Lottery funding was stopped earlier this year.

Ms Freris, 56, a retired scientist who lives in Belsize Park, said: “In Camden, there are many people who are completely isolated. They have no friends, no family and they depend on the regular visits from Good Neighbours. I first met Marjorie through the scheme after her husband died. She was in hospital, she had fallen and broken her hip and she was completely on her own after her husband died. It’s been six years now and we have become good friends.”

She added: “It’s not to do with caring. That kind of help is taken care of. It can be about being an advocate. In hospital, for example, it was important to have someone asking questions, making sure she was OK. You also get trained to spot signs of whether someone is vulnerable. But really, it’s to do with giving her something to look forward to, giving life back a bit of meaning. For Marjorie that was about helping her with writing and words.”

Marika has helped Marjorie get a book of her own limericks published and has had her round for Christmas. Age UK Camden offers bereavement support to volunteers too, as many of them build relationships that can last for several years. Each volunteer goes through an extensive vetting and training process and visits are all organised through the charity.

Statistics show that one in 10 elderly people in the borough are living alone – one of the highest rates of measurable isolation in the country.

Mary Burd, chairwoman of trustees at the charity, said: “Befriending is such an important part of our work and there is much evidence that it has a significant impact on wellbeing, for both the person befriended and the befriender.”

An appeal in the New Journal a fortnight ago has led to £6,500 being donated by a reader. But the charity needs more than £40,000 to keep the service going.

If you can help, contact head of fundraising Suzy Barber. Email: suzy.barber@


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