CARERS often lead a stressful and lonely existence looking after loved ones who are ill.
But Carers Connect, an outreach group at Holy Trinity, Stalybridge, provides an escape where they meet once a fortnight for companionship and to share experiences over lunch.
And founder Christine Howarth describes the group as “friendship with a purpose”.
Christine knows from personal experience the challenges as she cared for her husband Chris at home over a four-year period as he battled dementia. He died 12 years ago.
She said: “There was nothing there when we wanted it. All I had was a visiting nurse, may be for half an hour.
“You are on your own and kindness is often in short supply.
“I had people cross the road to avoid talking to me when I was caring for my husband and others think of dementia as though it is something you can catch.
Christine, a retired post office counter branch manager, added: “My personal experiences gave me the motivation to go to the church with the idea of forming the group.
“May Thompson, who is no longer involved, was with me at the start which was about six years ago.”
Today Christine works with parishioner Anne Wellock to prepare and cook the meals twice each month.
The group is not exclusively for carers and a number of those attending are no longer doing so.
But it gives them a chance to meet people and share their experiences.
Christine added: “Jesus welcomed everyone, lepers and cripples, and we are the same in being open to everyone.
“Many of those attending have cared for loved ones with dementia and Alzheimers.
“A lot of those who come along are parishioners so there is a familiarity. And they have a meal provided and no washing up.”
Christine, an accredited volunteer with Pennine Care, is also involved with a user group in Hyde that deals with mental illness.
Regular Pat Hanson, 76, was carer for her husband Dennis for seven years, three at home, before he died.
She said: “I knew about the carers’ group and it has been great to be able to talk with people who have similar experiences. We all need someone to talk to.
“When my husband went to day care, I came along here and I still look forward to it. It is good to get out rather than stare at four walls.”
Pat, who used to be employed by Tameside social services, added she always chose to work with the elderly as she found them interesting and she loved to hear the stories they told.
Arnold Castle, 87, from Gee Cross, Hyde, got to know about the group when he was a member of Civic Centre art club.
Retired engineer/toolmaker Arnold, who cared for his wife Patricia for about 12 years, described being alone a “killer”.
Arnold also attends The Grafton Centre, Hyde, three days each week and he says the friendships he has made and being able to talk to like-minded people has helped him.
Gladys Robson, 94, is the oldest member and the parishioner comes along for companionship.
“I have been attending since the group started. I have never been a carer, I need one.”
Gladys, a retired shorthand typist who still lives on her own on the Stalybridge/Dukinfield border, added: “I go to church every Sunday and I go for the company and the chance to meet people.”
Numbers attending Carers Connect vary between 10 and 20 and there is scope to accommodate more.
Anybody interested in attending can simply turn up at Holy Trinity on the first and third Friday each month, except August, at noon. There is a small charge for the meal.