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  • Elliott Malone

Spotlight on small charities: Elder Tree Befriending

Updated: Jun 17

Elder Tree Befriending provides vulnerable and socially isolated people over 50 in Plymouth with one-to-one support, and opportunities to socialise and get active. Operations Manager Elliott Malone tells us about their impact.

People chatting outside at an Elder Tree event

Tell us about Elder Tree Befriending’s work and aims


We’re a preventative service that supports individuals over the age of 50 across Plymouth to continue living independently. We aim to alleviate loneliness and social isolation, and currently support over 1,650 beneficiaries with the help of 180 amazing volunteers.


We run 93 social inclusion activities in 51 locations across the city, and provide over 100 of our most socially isolated and housebound beneficiaries in their homes with a volunteer befriender.


The charity delivers a wide range of weekly social inclusion activities, including:

  • ‘Active Lives’ groups

  • ‘Active Men’s’ clubs

  • craft groups

  • walking groups

  • coffee mornings

  • lunch and supper clubs

  • IT classes

  • choirs

  • dementia support groups.


As well as this, we run a full programme of social inclusion activities every week in five ‘Extra Care’ schemes across the city.


Physical activity is a key component of what we do. Across our ‘Active Lives’ and ‘Active Men’s’ groups we deliver 58 exercise-based activities, including:

  • seated and standing exercise

  • tai chi

  • Pilates

  • cardio fitness

  • walks

  • bowling

  • kurling.


These activities engage over 900 of our beneficiaries each week. We also deliver a ‘Strength and Balance Falls Prevention’ programme, in partnership with NHS Devon and Livewell Southwest.

People enjoy a Christmas-themed Elder Tree event

How are you making a difference to people’s lives?


Don’t take it from us – here’s some feedback from our beneficiaries and their families:


“Dancing makes a massive difference to Mum's life. It lifts her spirits as well as helping her mobility. She gets lost in the music, which helps her dementia. She's always so much happier after her class each week.”

“I’ve gone from being stuck at home 24/7 to joining four activities in four days. My confidence in managing my condition has grown under Elder Tree care, empowering me to try more things.”

“It’s made my brain start working again. It’s also made me consider myself more, as my life was all about looking after my husband. Elder Tree is such a good place and has made such a difference to me and my husband.”

“Shirley is a star and I enjoy her visits very much. The moment she walks out of the door I'm looking forward her next visit. We talk about anything and everything.”


Tell us about the impact you’re having within the community


As well as providing support and befriending every week for our beneficiaries, Elder Tree has built up strong community links with other statutory and voluntary organisations.


  • We’re members of the Local Care Partnership and the Healthy Ageing Board working with NHS Plymouth.

  • We work with Plymouth City Council as part of their Ageing Well strategy and their Wellbeing System Design group.

  • We’re members of the Plymouth Dementia Action Alliance.

  • We get involved in various local events too. 


We pride ourselves on having our groups meet across the city. By delivering support close to where people live, and using local venues in the heart of neighbourhoods, we aim to encourage the development of new networks within local communities.


What role do volunteers play in the running of Elder Tree Befriending, and what impact do they have?


Elder Tree wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for our amazing volunteers – they’re the beating heart and soul of our charity. We wouldn’t be able to reach our most vulnerable beneficiaries without them.


Many of our volunteers donate their time to visit these people in their homes (some of whom have no other contact) and bring some happiness to their lives. Others donate their time and help support our social inclusion and physical activity groups. We value our volunteers immensely for the role they play.


Here’s what volunteering for Elder Tree means to them:


“I’m very privileged to be invited into my friend’s home and warmly welcomed. It's really good to listen to the different things that have happened in their life, and to chat about it over a cup of tea. I feel happy I became a volunteer – my life is enriched by visiting my friend.”

S. Swatman


“Volunteering for Elder Tree was something I thought about for some time before I finally decided to take the leap, and I’m so pleased I did. I come away from meetings with my beneficiary knowing I’m making a positive difference to their day. I’ve gained a sense of fulfilment, connection and purpose. I only wish I could give more time! I believe the work Elder Tree does for the elderly community is fantastic, and I know my beneficiary feels the same.”         

L. Beer


“It’s rewarding, making new friends. We’re making a difference to someone’s life and providing an ear to listen to their problems. It’s just great to think you’ve made a small difference to someone’s day.”

G. Brown                               


What are some of the challenges you face?


We’re a referred-into service and receive 70 referrals a month, on average. So we’re always on the lookout for more volunteers to help support new beneficiaries.


Another challenge we face is rising rental costs due to the cost of living crisis. We try to have a footprint in every area across the city, as transport can be a barrier for many people. The cost of living crisis has also added to our own operational costs, including staff salaries and travel expenses.


How do you feel small charities like yours could be better supported?

Elder Tree has built up a strong connection with statutory organisations across Plymouth and the NHS – who recognise our contribution to the city and its over-50 communities. This level of support to small charities is vital – and it’s something that perhaps doesn’t happen equally across the nation. 

Longer period funding contracts would also help, so charities can focus on delivering to communities for longer, before attempting to find the next pot of funding.

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