Maureen and Elaine.

Elaine will be celebrating her 98th birthday later this year. These days, her eyesight is severely impaired and her hearing isn’t perfect either. But she says she loves coming along every Wednesday morning to the Shire House Suite in the centre of Bodmin for the weekly ‘Time Together’ event.

“I do enjoy coming here,” she says. “I look forward to it. I don’t go anywhere else.”

Eight years her junior, her friend Maureen holds her hand. Maureen is twice widowed, a retired nurse who has, in years gone by, also worked teaching blind people how to shoot competitively. She spent 17 years doing that and ended up training quite a few medal-winners.

Maureen continues to keep busy, and particularly likes coming here each week.

“It’s lovely,” she says. “It’s brilliant to come and have somebody to talk to. Things like this are why I’m glad to keep going.”

Time Together is part of the Bodmin Way, a major social enterprise initiative established by the people of St Petroc’s Church and supported by funds from the Diocese of Truro. Around 45 people come along each week.

Local worship leader Rosie Waldron says that it’s the highlight of many people’s weeks.

“It does me as much good as it does them,” she adds.

Organiser Abbie Cavalera.

The sessions are organised by Abbie Cavalera and her team of volunteers.

“We welcome anybody and everybody,” Abbie says. “It’s very social. People get together and chat with old friends and make new ones.”

Tea, coffee and cookies are provided. They run bingo games and quizzes. They regularly welcome guest speakers and musicians – from poets and choral singers, to ukulele players and even local community police officers.

“It helps people with loneliness,” Abbie adds. “There are a few people here who wouldn’t otherwise see other people. It’s something to look forward to each week.”

She says it’s wonderful that many of the people who come each week have also volunteered to help out with running the sessions. “Our volunteers are brilliant. We have a really good variety of people. Everyone takes a genuine interest in what’s going on in people’s lives.”

Abbie and her volunteers.

One of Abbie’s volunteers, Margaret, used to manage a care home. She explains that it took some time after the pandemic for elderly people to regain the confidence to go out again. She believes that this initiative has supported many local people in that.

“There’s a lot of isolation out there, and this helps to offset that,” she says. “It also helps people build connections. It’s about more than just being here on Wednesday mornings.”

“Everybody talks to each other – about anything and everything,” adds Eileen, another volunteer. “There’s a really good buzz here.”

Abbie also runs a series of winter warmer events on Friday mornings at the Parish Centre, as well as the local community larder.

The community larder has nearly 400 members and distributes 750 kilos of food every week. That’s three tons each month. On Friday mornings, they also host the local credit union and offer the services of a parish nurse.  Representatives of Citizens Advice and health, housing and finance organisations are also invited along to give support.

“We might not always have the answers,” says Abbie. “But we can generally signpost people where to go.”

Parish nurse Geraldine Ashton also provides a surgery at Wednesday mornings’ Time Together events.

“It’s such an asset that we’ve got Geraldine here,” Abbie says.

Parish nurse Geraldine Ashton.

Geraldine is a registered nurse who works in the Bodmin community through the church and in partnership with the local general medical practice.

“We’re part of a conversation with social services and social prescribers,” she explains. “The general practice have been brilliant. They’re really supportive.”

She started in January and says she loves her work.

“I love that I’ve got the time to spend with people,” she adds. “It’s holistic – body, mind, soul and spirit.

“It’s about building up community relationships. People respond very well. They’re delighted – they’re thrilled.”

That much is evident from the smiling faces that fill the Shire House Suite each Wednesday morning.

“They’re a good friendly lot,” says one of the Time Together regulars, a lady called Aline. “They look after us very well.”

Aline is a cheerful young octogenarian. “I’m just a baby,” she jokes. “I’m only 84!”

Her friend June is a couple of years older and has lived in Bodmin for nearly 70 years.

“It’s lovely here,” she says. “I’ve made loads and loads of friends. When it was my birthday, I got 24 cards!”

According to a recent Cornwall Council report, there are parts of central Bodmin which, in socioeconomic terms, fall within the most deprived ten per cent of the UK. But you wouldn’t guess that here. This project has given people in this small Cornish town a reason to hope again.

For there’s much wit and wisdom here, here in the beating heart of Bodmin on a bright spring morning, here among these beautiful, brilliant souls seasoned by time and fate – yes, there’s truly that ‘real buzz’ – you can feel it in the air – a lot of living and humour and kindness, and such a very great deal of faith, joy, life and love.

June and Aline.