The revival of the lovely Bisto Together Project

Posted on December 16, 2016 by Eleanor McKenzie
Family enjoying roast lunch

Christmas is traditionally a time to spare more than a thought for those who are less fortunate. While there are many deserving charities to donate to, top gravy brand Bisto, in partnership with Contact the Elderly is using a festive campaign that proposes a more ‘hands on’ solution than giving money with the revival of its 2015 Spare Chair campaign as the Bisto Together Project.

Spare Chair Sunday & Bisto Together Project

Some of you may remember Bisto’s popular “Connie meets the Walker family” advert that ran in 2015, where Connie, an elderly lady living alone is invited to the Walker family’s home for a Sunday roast. It was a feel good advert that was perfectly aligned with the spirit of giving. Bisto worked with Contact the Elderly to deliver the message, while the charity organised the households that signed up to offer a place at their table. The campaign was so successful, with over 4,500 people applying to be “Spare Chair Sunday” hosts, that Bisto is running the campaign again. All it asks is that family offers a “spare chair” at least once a year to an elderly member of their local community. Inviting one person extra for Sunday lunch is not a major expense and the food, not to mention the gravy, is only one part of the gesture: it is the company for a lonely elderly person that is most important, and that costs nothing to give.

Be Our Guest

Contact the Elderly has now stopped taking applications for “Spare Chair Sunday” hosts, but it has a new afternoon tea project called Be Our Guest, which aims to make the lives of people aged 75 and over who live alone just that bit less isolated, particularly if they don’t have family or close friends nearby. The organisers rightly believe that a change of scenery, along with conversation and laughter with people of all ages, is just what a lonely person needs, and regular invitations to afternoon tea are an ideal way to achieve it.

Currently, the charity runs free, monthly afternoon tea parties and already has 670 groups around England, Scotland and Wales organising the events locally. If you’d like to be involved in this, go to the Be Our Guest link above and sign up. You can also nominate an elderly person who you think would benefit from an invitation and the charity urges everyone to be on the look out for elderly people in our communities who may be suffering with loneliness. It is not easy for this age group to ask for help, because they grew up in an era where you just got on with whatever life threw at you, consequently, they often become dangerously invisible.

Ways to take part in Be Our Guest

If you would like to participate in this great community initiative, there are three ways to volunteer, and you can follow this link for full details and application form.

The events happen once a month on a Sunday afternoon. The guests are collected by a volunteer driver and taken to the host’s home for afternoon tea and company. The host changes each month, but the drivers and guests are the same, so that everyone involved gets to know each other better over time.

Volunteer drivers

Volunteering to drive the elderly guests is one way of participating. There are usually three to five drivers in a group and others cover for holidays and emergencies. All you need is a full driver’s licence, valid insurance and a car. The charity also asks for the following: “As a driver we ask you to supply two references and we also take out a Disclosure and Barring service check (DBS) or a PVG before you start as a volunteer.”

Host a tea party

The host’s job is to provide a warm welcome and a simple afternoon tea lasting two to three hours for six to eight older guests and three to four drivers. Nobody is expecting you to turn your home into the Ritz. What you need is a large teapot, a ground floor toilet and a front door that is easy to access, i.e. not too many steps. The charity asks hosts to commit to a minimum of one or two tea parties annually.

Organise everybody

Some people excel at organisation and if that is your skill then the charity needs coordinators who ensure the events run smoothly. The coordinator liaises with hosts and drivers, and the drivers liaise with the guests. The charity provides support and advice for this role and only asks that you provide them with two references and agree to a CRB or PVG check.

Alternatively, you can always use either Spare Chair Sunday or Be Our Guest as the springboard for your own local initiative to bring warmth, joy, good food and the Christmas spirit to lonely, elderly people in your community all year round.

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.