As Warwickshire’s Friendship Charity looks back on 30 years of incredible work for children in need and praises its longest-standing volunteer, Joan Bolton, Hannah Smith went to find out what the team has achieved, and how you could help.
Beaming as she watched 15-year-old Jake take a trophy for county bowls, Joan Bolton could never have imagined how a meeting seven years earlier would have had such an effect on both their lives.
The pair were brought together through the Friendship Project – a charity for which Joan is now the longest-serving Older Friend to young people in need.
As she approaches her 80th birthday, and milestone 20 years of amazing work with the organisation, she hopes her story will help inspire others to help transform lives.
The Warwickshire charity pairs up volunteers with children in need – anyone from young carers, those who have lost parents, are being bullied at school, or who simply do not have the same opportunities as others their age.
Looking back on how it all started, Joan, who was born and raised in Warwick, said it was a chance conversation with a neighbour in 1997 that she became aware of the charity’s need for supporters.
We have volunteers in their twenties right up to our amazing 80-year-old Joan, and every one of them has something special to offerFiona Roche
After a lifelong and rewarding teaching career at Shrubland Street and Clinton Primary schools, Joan decided to use her retirement to the full and was soon paired with her first Young Friend, Jake, who was just eight-years-old.
The duo went on to spend seven years spending time together – fossil hunting, walking in the park – and she even introduced the youngster to Leamington bowls club where he showed instant potential.
Some years later and Jake went on to take the trophy for the junior club competition in what she says was one of her proudest moments.
“The best part of being an Older Friend is the enjoyment of taking kids out and going to do things I wouldn’t normally do without them,” she says.
The idea is simple, explains charity co-ordinator, Fiona Roche. Volunteers are paired up with a younger friend aged between six and 16, and spend two or three hours a week together.
“This is about sharing experiences that young people and our volunteers would not have otherwise,” she says.
“What we see are some hugely rewarding relationships being formed.
“The children referred to us are from all sorts of backgrounds and it is amazing to see them grow in self confidence as a result of these friendship links.
“We have volunteers in their twenties right up to our amazing 80-year-old Joan, and every one of them has something special to offer.
“Joan is a very modest lady who has given a huge amount of time to supporting children. We are very privileged to have her and would like to pay tribute to the fantastic contribution she’s made to The Friendship Project.”
Despite the sad loss of her late husband, Keith, Joan still has her dog Charlie to help brighten up children’s days.
And most recently, the committed volunteer is now a Friend to two sisters, who she takes out cycling, baking and visiting parks to give the girls’ grandparents and carers a break.
Joan, who has also worked with the Volunteer Bureau and for children in Coventry, will have her achievements celebrated alongside 30th birthday events at the Friendship Project next month.
During the milestone year, the charity is calling for help to pair up at least 25 children now waiting for an Older Friend.
And you can take part in a Family Anniversary Fair to mark the 30 years, enjoying a day of barbecue, games and entertainment.
The even will come to Old Leamingtonians RFC on June 18, from 1.30-4pm and all are welcome.
Contact charity chair, Cheryll Rawbone at firstname.lastname@example.org to take part, or donate prizes. To get involved with volunteering and help change children’s lives, visit www.friendshipproject.co.uk or follow them on Twitter via @friendshipproj