At 87 and virtually blind, Yvonne McCready does not regard herself as socially isolated or in need of “someone to chat to.” Why would she? Monday to Friday she walks more than 1.3 km from her Blackheath cottage into “town” where she either stops for the community lunch or catches a train to Katoomba for a hot meal.
“I meet another interesting person every day,” she says of these regular lunchtime gatherings. “I hate cooking, but I love food. So I’m quite prepared to get myself out for lunch during the week.”
There are Community Restaurants dotted around the mountains, providing nourishing food and fellowship to a range of people from the elderly and isolated to those with disabilities. Many lunch-goers are picked up and delivered to the restaurants by community transport, but Yvonne enjoys her daily walks back and forth from the station, and will continue to do so as long as her progressive macular degeneration allows.
The restaurants are co-ordinated by Blue Mountains Food Services, who also manage the extensive Meals on Wheels service, and have created a social support network of volunteers who make it viable for many aged people to continue living at home. These volunteers offer wide-ranging assistance, from helping with shopping, cooking and gardening to simply providing companionship and outings.
Being so fiercely determined and independent Yvonne may never have been a candidate for this kind of assistance, until the death of her son Gerard, who often came up from Lawson to help maintain her charming garden of natives and exotics. She was already on the books to receive Meals on Wheels at weekends and it was obvious to the co-ordinator that she might benefit from some additional practical assistance.
“They just phoned me and asked if I would like someone to come once a fortnight to help with the garden.”
“Would I ever!” was her response.
By chance, at the same time, gardenlover Helen Proudfoot made contact with Meals on Wheels to see if they had any elderly people on their books who were struggling to maintain their gardens.
“Back when I lived and worked in Sydney I was inspired by a scheme that supported older people to keep living in their homes by helping them with their gardens,” she said.
So, when I retired up here in Blackheath, I phoned the Council so see if they had such a scheme. They didn’t. I felt I’d hit a brick wall and was seriously thinking about setting up my own volunteer group. Then when I spoke to the people at Meals on Wheels they put me together with Yvonne and I have been visiting her regularly ever since.
Yvonne does not sit in the shade sipping iced tea and giving directions while Helen does the hard yakka. Oh no. They are
both down on their hands and knees, weeding and chatting, laughing and sharing stories as they work their way ’round the well-mulched pathways.
They share their life stories and memories; so what began as a simple “helping role” has developed into a warm friendship.
“Helen is amazing,” says Yvonne. “I can’t see well enough to read or write any more. She has spent hours typing up one of my journals – a collection of quotes from books and poems and memories. It’s important for me to share family history with my children and grandchildren.” Helen and Yvonne are now discussing working together to write a proper memoir.
Both women have had amazing lives; the anecdotes just tumble out.
Yvonne, who married and had ten children, spent many happy times in Blackheath during her own childhood, visiting her uncle and cousin who had apple orchards at Shipley (Logan Brae and Cliff View). Then thirty years ago she moved up to Blackheath permanently. Before her marriage she was one of the first preschool teachers in Australia trained to work in slum areas. She eventually set up the first kindergarten run by trained pre-school teachers (not nurses) to support the early ‘“working mothers” in Matraville. After marriage, her husband helped her build a long day care centre at the back of the family home, caring for preschoolers from 7 am until 5pm. Ground-breaking work in the early 1950s!
Helen grew up and worked in Dee Why, married and had two daughters, with a career in local government, before taking a sabbatical to the UK where she and a friend spent five years running village pubs in Devon. On her return to Sydney she wanted to live “where I can feel the change of season” and came to the Mountains where she worked for 10 years as a legal secretary. After retirement she knew she wanted to spend part of her time as a volunteer, helping people.
“I get a lot from Yvonne – she’s such a great and knowledgeable woman and she’s taught me a lot about gardening and life. As a volunteer you get back just as much as you put in.”
The Community Restaurants are at Blaxland, Springwood, Lawson, Katoomba and Blackheath. To find out more, contact Leesa on 47592811 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To become a volunteer (in the Community Restaurants, delivering meals or the Social Support program), contact Celia on 47592811 or email email@example.com.
The website is www.bmfs.org.au