A group of CV Life members who meet regularly at Xcel Leisure Centre say friendships they have made are proving a lifeline.
Made up primarily of those over the age of 55, the group has grown organically over a number of years.
Over cups of tea, biscuits and home-baked treats, the diverse group of Lifestyle members meet several times a week in the cafe area to chat, catch up and generally offer one another friendship and support.
The group, which tends to meet up in the mornings, is mainly made up of retired or semi-retired people, with ages ranging between mid 50s and early 80s. Politics is banned as a talking topic, with an unwritten rule everything is kept positive and supportive.
Some of the group are married, others are widows. All take part in different classes and groups, be it table tennis, group exercise or swimming. They also occasionally meet outside of Xcel, with lunch meetings, day trips to tourist spots and more.
One individual, Clive, has had a difficult year, but the group has helped him recover and even encouraged him to learn new skills.
As I talk to him, his voice falters and tears spring to his eyes. One of the group pats him on the shoulder. “It’s OK not to be OK Clive,” she encourages.
“I’ve had a really difficult time of things from a mental health perspective recently,” Clive shared. “I went through a bad spell at the start of the year, I’m still going through it. But I was mooching around, kind of wallowing in it.
“But I started sitting with the group in the cafe after swimming or table tennis and they were just so sympathetic to what I was going through.
“I don’t think you’d get this kind of community group at other centres, this feels unique to the Xcel. it really helps me cope, it’s been such a boost.
“Knowing I have this group here to offer support is huge – it honestly gets me out of bed in the morning, it’s a lifeline that has really created a diversion for me.
“I slip, sometimes, I go backwards, but generally I’m on the up, and this group really keeps me going. Catching up with them in the mornings kickstarts my day and has just given a real boost to my mental health.”
Catching up with the group several times a week has even seen Clive pick up new hobbies.
“I had all the stuff in the kitchen so I decided to start baking so I could contribute,” Clive explained. “So I bring in the stuff I bake and everyone is always complimentary – I think they’re just being nice as I don’t think they’re very good! Everyone wants me to get into knitting next!”
Another member of the group, Gill, added: “When I retired I started coming to the Xcel and found it so friendly. I had a busy job, so I needed things to do as retiring leaves a big gap. So having different company and being part of such a friendly bunch is vital for me.”
Jacquie, another member of the crowd, is a retired nurse and one of the group’s originals. She said: “I do a lot of classes which, being retired, just brings that bit of structure. It has a positive impact on my mental health – it lightens your mood and sets you up for the day.
“It started off just a few of us after swimming, we called ourselves the Aqua Babes! But the group has grown and grown – that wasn’t the plan, it just happened. Now we’ve got our Christmas outing coming up and there are 24 of us going!
Ryan Quinn is centre manager at Xcel. He said: “This group is really friendly and welcoming. The fact that such a bunch has just sprung up speaks volumes about the kind of culture we have here at Xcel.
“We try to make sure our centre is community focused, with an emphasis on being accessible to all while creating a happy and friendly environment. I hope this group’s very existence is testament to our success in this goal.”