I wish you could have been standing with me outside the largest hall in our small West Country town, guarding a Christmas-wrapped raffle prize for my friend as she parked the car. Was it really only last Sunday afternoon?
‘Are they wearing masks?’ asked an elderly lady as she approached. I peered through the door. ‘Doesn’t look like it.’ She got her mask out just in case and dropped her stick in the process of putting it on. Then a large group of young people rolled up – every one of them maskless, clearly out to enjoy themselves. My friend arrived and we followed the young people in. Lovely – here was real life taking place before our eyes at last. We handed in our tickets and collected our Bingo cards. Into the hall we went where we were greeted with a sea of blue and white balloons and lots and lots of happy, smiling faces. It was two years since this party was held and everyone was ready to make up for lost time. We located other members of our group and sat down.
Who were we all and why had we got together?
Several years ago a young fitness instructor, visiting his grandmother in a nursing home, was asked by her to help with some exercises that the residents could all take part in. On his next visit he took along some hand-held weights, stretchy bands and soft hand balls. Soon the residents were all looking forward to his weekly visits and their very own exercise classes. From this small beginning grew sessions in a number of nursing homes. Then local halls were booked and three times a week anyone could go along to the three classes that ran one after another depending on physical abilities. I attend the middle level session: ‘Stand and Strengthen’, which follows ‘Sit and Strengthen’ and lastly ‘Don’t Lose it Move it’. On offer now are activities not just for us older members of the community but all ages, with Boxercise, bootcamps, running groups and more. Here is the website in case anyone is interested.
During the first lockdown, DVDs were produced so we could carry on in our own homes using tins of beans, stretchy tights and squashy cushions. Although these sessions helped, we missed the camaraderie that came from getting together and exercising in our friendly groups. As soon as he could our instructor ran outdoor sessions until finally everything got going in full once more.
Back at the Christmas party we all cheered as our categories were called out. Three nursing homes had tables as did the members of all the other groups. Then it was eyes down for a full house and a game of Bingo for young, old and those in between with prizes throughout. Next came a huge raffle with prizes donated by many of the businesses in the town, all proceeds going to the junior rugby club. Waitrose put the mince pies on the table and the bar was open.
What a happy, joyful occasion of celebration, and thank heavens it was not planned for this weekend as fear and masks stalk the land once again.