‘Anna’s Place’ in Billericay, Essex, is the focus for Christ Church Billericay’s work among older people serving the community in the town. Anna Chaplain Eileen Simmons visited the church one Sunday recently to tell the congregation more about Anna Chaplaincy.
‘I felt very privileged when Debbie Thrower asked if I would consider accepting an invitation to talk about Anna Chaplaincy in Billericay’, writes Eileen. ‘As I had no preaching appointments that Sunday or other responsibilities, as we ourselves were having a combined service in another local Methodist Church I was very pleased to accept.
‘In advance, I was liaising with Revd Margaret Fowler and certainly will continue to do so in the future. The congregation was a joint one from the four local Anglican churches. I was given a 20-minute time slot. I chose to outline my own experience and also to talk about a range of models of Anna Chaplaincy. I talked about the wonderful St Albans work across the whole city led by my Anna Chaplaincy colleague Maggie Dodd as one example, and have liaised with her since.
‘My own work includes telephone befriending with Southend Age Concern; my example of almost an hour’s conversation the previous week with one of my lovely ladies including the details of her daughter’s visit to Graceland very recently for Elvis Presley’s daughter Lisa Marie’s funeral, which was utterly fascinating to me. I also talked about how we giggled about the current fashion of platform shoes, which was well received.
‘The large congregation were very responsive. I think they realised what joy we can experience as an Anna Chaplain. I also talked about my Benfleet HOPE group, which runs from 10.00 am – 2.00 pm every Monday. My role is to support carers and their loved ones who live with dementia. During the day we do a range of activities and last week we had a talk about the Canvey Floods’ seventieth anniversary, did some Keep Fit, enjoyed lunch and had a music and singing session in the afternoon accompanied by Bob with his guitar and banjo. Every week we have one input which is different from the week before.
‘I also undertake pastoral visits, including a monthly visit to a wonderful 93-year-old lady who has become a friend. She bakes me shortbread and I happily break my own rule of no biscuits midweek! She has my agreement that I will take her funeral (with my minister).
‘I so much enjoyed giving the talk, helped by the knowledge that possibly I might have someone in the congregation who knew me, as I was deputy head of Billericay School for ten years.
‘I stood at the door after the service with Margaret and indeed I met ex-pupils and parents of ex-pupils, which was wonderful. I had offered to talk to anyone over refreshments afterwards and many people took up the offer. Aspects of dementia were freely discussed and had touched the lives of many.
‘In summary, I felt it was, for me, a very positive experience and Margaret Fowler is going to add her viewpoint. Like me, Margaret is already, with colleagues, doing aspects of Anna Chaplaincy before she undertakes her training. I had been doing one-to-one interactions with people, who had advanced dementia in a local care home before I trained as an Anna Chaplain.’
‘Anna’s Place’ and Anna Chaplaincy at Christ Church Billericay – Revd Margaret Fowler:
‘For us it really began in April 2022 when six of us from the Anglican Billericay & Little Burstead Team Ministry went to Mulberry House to hear Debbie speak about Anna Chaplaincy. It wasn’t until then that we realised seed thoughts had already been planted in some of our minds about starting a project for the elderly and those with dementia.
‘At our local Churches Together meeting the following September I asked if the leaders could see if anyone from their churches would be interested in joining a group with a view to hosting a weekly event for older people to come together under the umbrella of Anna Chaplaincy. The first meeting for those interested was held on 3 October 2022 and nine people came along from four different churches. That was the first of five meetings which we held before we started the project on January 9 this year. We invited our safeguarding rep' to our second meeting and she explained what each of us needed to do. Several of us already had an enhanced DBS, but mostly the helpers simply needed to self-certify. The name “Anna’s Place” came out of the blue as we were all leaving one of the meetings, and everyone said “yes!”
‘We explored what was already being held in Billericay for the elderly during the week and a couple of our team visited these projects to see how they were run. Everyone was very helpful and encouraging that we were starting up something new. A Tuesday had become vacant in Christ Church halls, and that worked well as we knew there were other activities for the elderly were being held in the town on a Wednesday and Thursday.’
‘We felt that the number of people feeling called to this ministry, and also the availability of the hall, was an indicator that God was in this.’
‘We also obtained information and purchased the handbook from the Anna Chaplaincy website and made it available at our meetings. Four helpers have now indicated that they would like to do the Anna Chaplaincy training, and one, Revd Christine Williams, has already started the course. Christine is also a Dementia Friend, and she advised us on where to obtain suitable signage indicating where the toilets are so that someone with dementia can understand clearly where they are situated. Our halls and church now have this signage displayed. We also checked our First Aid boxes and accompanying signage, and realised the boxes were rather out of date and it also wasn’t very clear where they were located. So new First Aid boxes were obtained and new signage was put up. We have two people who have done first aid courses in the past, but we plan to organise a first aid course which as many of the team as possible will attend.
‘We began to put together how we thought “Anna’s Place” should be organised. We decided to run it from 10.00 am – 2.00 pm each week. Coffee and biscuits would be available on arrival and there would be homemade soup and bread for lunch.
‘Guests would be welcomed at the welcome table and given a label with just their first name on it. They would then be introduced around to see what they would like to do and be offered a cup of tea/coffee and biscuits. The activities available are puzzles, knitting/crochet, games, craft, colouring etc. Alternatively, guests can just sit and chat if they want to. We have 60s background music playing or sometimes Christian music. Three ladies have offered to make soup for lunch which they do in rotation. One helper prefers to stay in the kitchen because she has a hearing problem and can’t hear so well when many people are talking at the same time.
‘We didn’t know quite how it would work out each week, but we felt we should just be flexible and revisit what we do if it doesn’t work out. We were also told not to be disappointed if things went very slowly at first. That was good advice as, despite our wide advertising, no one turned up the first week! The helpers though were not discouraged and felt it had been a good dry run for setting up. The team all had lunch together that day and they got to know one another in a way they couldn’t have done if visitors had turned up.
‘Billericay & Little Burstead are a team of four churches and every fifth Sunday we hold a Team Service. I suggested to the Rector that we invite someone from Anna Chaplaincy to speak at our next Team Service, and he readily agreed. Eileen Simmons, an Anna Chaplain from Leigh-on-Sea, came along and she was really well received. So many people were interested in what she had to say and many stayed for coffee afterwards and wanted to speak to her. It really put Anna Chaplaincy on the map as far as the parish is concerned!
‘So we are now five weeks in and more people are coming to “Anna’s Place” each week. Last Tuesday, in addition to our other activities, we invited an art teacher to show us how to paint and draw, and that was absolutely great. Everyone learned a lot, and he promised to come again in the next half-term break. He also left us art materials so that we can encourage guests to paint and draw. Over 20 of us had lunch together on Tuesday. A local bakery has been sending surplus bread and cakes for us which has been much appreciated.
‘The church has agreed that we do not have to pay for use of the hall/heating etc. We have applied for a grant from the local Warm Spaces fund, but haven’t yet heard anything. It has also been suggested that one of our local Rotary Clubs might help us with funding for lunches and any new materials we need, but we have managed financially so far.
‘We are now at the stage where we have submitted the Head Licence Agreement to our PCC for approval so that we can officially be part of Anna Chaplaincy and use the logo on our advertising materials. We are all very much looking forward to working with Anna Chaplaincy in the future! It’s been an exciting time.’