Morna O'May of Contact the Elderly on reaching out to isolated older people and the power of music
What makes a good day at work?
Hearing about the comments made by the older guests in our groups. This week a new guest said “I thought this was going to be really stuffy but I’ve never laughed so much in a long time.”
What makes you most proud of Contact the Elderly?
In 50 years our basic ethos hasn’t changed. Sunday afternoon tea parties for groups of isolated, older people. It’s a simple, effective idea and it works so we keep doing it. I am most proud of the wonderful army of volunteers who enable us to keep doing this, they’re a brilliant bunch.
Do you socialise with colleagues outside the Christmas party?
Yes, absolutely. In Scotland we have a fantastic team and it makes for a supportive working environment when you know you can also call your colleagues your friends.
What’s the best thing that’s happened this month?
Two best things actually – we launched our campaign ‘Be Our Guest’ to encourage more isolated older people to join our groups. It’s creating interest which is great because isolated, older people exist in every community, the challenging part is reaching them and letting them know about our groups.
Secondly, we have been shortlisted for The Herald Society Award for best Older People’s Project in Scotland.
What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
Don’t be concerned about feeling grown-up – you never do. And neither does anyone else!
Is the third sector a calling or an accident?
Whilst in a corporate role I liaised with the various Charities of the Year. I met with the representatives of several charities and used to think “I’d quite like to have your job”. So part calling, part accident.
Is getting older in our society getting harder?
I believe it is. Families are more dispersed, we have many older guests in our groups with family all over the world. Social media and digital technology has its place and the use of video chat certainly helps but nothing beats face to face contact which is where our tea parties play such an important role.
If you were your boss would you like you?
I think so, I’ve had some great bosses and I’m still friends and in touch with them so hopefully this means they have liked being my boss. One of them is actually now one of our volunteers.
Do you volunteer, and if so what do you do?
Yes, with Mealmakers, The Worldwide Tribe, Mary’s Meals, a local refugee support group and Stirling Soup. Mostly befriending and fundraising.
You’re home, fully fed with your feet up – which comes first Eastenders or emails?
Emails – but not work ones, personal ones.
What’s the best book ever written?
A Garden of Eden in Hell by Alice Hertz-Sommer. At 110 Alice was the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor. A concert pianist, she used her music to survive the concentration camps with her young son.
A very close second is Sally Magnusson’s Where Memories Go, the story of her mother’s life with dementia and how music kept her connected to her family. Ultimately this experience led to Sally founding the charity, Playlist for Life.
Two books that highlight the amazing power of music.
What cake would you take to a tea party?
Someone else’s. I’m definitely not a baker but there are so many fabulous bakers amongst our tea party hosts. I’ll leave the baking to those who do it really well.
What advice would you give to someone who’s worried about an elderly neighbour?
Speak to them, ask if you can help. Suggest organisations that may be able to help. Most importantly keep the communication going, maybe all that is needed is a cup of tea and a chat.
Which Brian Cox?
Actor – because he’s William Wallace’s Uncle Argyle.
Morna O'May is head of sevice at Contact the Elderly.