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Atilla the Nun offers inspiration and advice

Matt and Sister Rita

On 2 March 2016, Matt Ford from Father Hudson’s Young at Heart project in Stoke and North Staffordshire, travelled to Manchester to meet Sister Rita Lee, star of BBC documentary 'Sister Rita to the Rescue'. 

Sister Rita, known locally as Atilla the Nun, helped establish the Lalley Centre to support people of Collyhurst in Manchester, one of the most deprived parishes in England. Hosted at St Malachy’s Roman Catholic Primary School, the centre brings together schools, parishes and the local community with Caritas to provide support to local residents who are experiencing great need.

The centre provides numerous services including a food bank, job club, older people’s club, and drop in advice sessions on a wide range of issues such as welfare rights, employment support and professional social work support. The centre also promotes health and wellbeing through health advice, befriending and tackling social isolation.

After seeing 'Sister Rita to the Rescue', Matt noticed the similarities between the Lalley Centre and the Young at Heart groups which operate in Hanley, Kidsgrove and Meir Park.

/media/news/library/liverpool-trip.jpgYoung at Heart helps prevent social isolation in older people by providing lunch clubs, outings (such as the the Liverpool trip pictured, left) and the opportunity for people to get together and socialise. The clubs promote healthy lifestyles and feature exercise classes, arts and crafts sessions, healthy eating information and regular guest speakers who can provide advice on a wide range of subjects from staying safe at home to welfare advice.

Young at Heart also operates a volunteer gardening scheme which provides befriending and support while helping to improve people’s living conditions.

During his visit Matt saw many people experiencing similar issues to those who attend the Young at Heart groups. He said, “the problems are very similar – people without food, people wanting help with benefits or who want advice and guidance on what they’re going through.”

The day offered Matt an excellent opportunity to see how the Lalley Centre operates and to talk to staff, volunteers and attendees about what the centre means to them. But for Matt the experience wasn’t just about seeing, but about doing. He said, “while I was there I got stuck in helping out at the foodbank and passing out food parcels to the people who came.”

Inspired by what he saw, Matt has already arranged a meeting with the Job Centre to discuss extra support for the groups, and said he has lots of other ideas and tips from his visit.

The visit marks the beginning of what is hoped to be an ongoing collaboration between the two groups, during which they intend to learn from each other, share good practice and advice and expand the services they offer. Sister Rita and Max Leon, development officer, intend to visit Stoke in the next few months to see the Young at Heart project in operation and to get ideas from Matt and the team.

If you are interested in getting involved with Young at Heart, whether as a volunteer or if you are interested in attending, please contact Matt Ford on 07587 034299.

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