Just Good Friends - a look back at 10 years of the Fylde-based companionship group changing people's lives
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It’s a companionship group founded in St Annes by Bev Sykes, who was feeling down after the death of her mum – and it’s going from strength to strength after celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
With some 200 members, it provides regular get-togethers and activities – and even special events such as making wishes come true for it members as well as having provided a vital lifeline of communication during lockdown.
Bev says she isn’t surprised by its ongoing success as she “always knew there was a need for help combat loneliness” in Fylde. Here she takes a personal lookback at the highlights of its history.
“Wow – 10 years – I can’t honestly believe it. We’ve seen many changes over the years but one thing has always remained the same and that is the passion and determination to change people’s lives.
"What’s so very important, is that everyone knows they are not on their own. We are here for everyone and just a phone call away.
“There was a time when someone told me they were so very lonely and isolated and never went out anywhere but now they tell me they are never in.
“We’ve seen many highlights over the 10 years – the first being when we received a phone call from the Clinical Commissioning Group informing me we had won an award called ‘Making a Difference’.
“That was followed by an award from the Tom Finney Foundation called ‘Time to Shine’, which again we were so very proud to receive – and soon after, we heard from the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, who said Just Good Friends were a ‘Point of Light’.
“When I got an invitation to attend the Queen’s Garden Party I have to say was probably one of the best days I have ever experienced. To go to Buckingham Palace, chat to the then Prince Charles and meet others in the Royal Family was simply the best.
“The best was yet to come, however, when Just Good Friends received a letter from Camilla, now Queen Consort, saying:- ‘I am delighted that you all at Just Good Friends are working so hard to prevent loneliness and isolation, and I would like to congratulate you all on the wonderful work you are doing for this hugely important cause on this, your 10th anniversary. I hope I may be able to pay you a visit at some point but, until then, I wish you every success in the future. With my best wishes, Camilla’.
“But it is the feedback we get from our members which has been the biggest pleasure over the years.
"Christine McSherry came to the very first meeting 10 years ago and her life has changed so very much. She is a published author and a happy lady - not much loneliness in her life now.
“Christine now tells me: ‘Just Good friends helped me to start living again after losing my darling husband to cancer. They encouraged me to write and perform my poetry. I keep busy. I am lucky. I have a loving, supportive family but living alone can be lonely. That’s where just Good friends comes in. There is always someone to talk to, to listen and to help when you are feeling low. I am much happier now and it started the day I joined Just Good Friends’.
“It was also so lovely to also hear from Christine’s daughter who wrote to us at the time and ended her letter by saying to Just Good Friends ‘Thanks for giving me my mum back. That brought a tear to my eye. Changing lives and bringing happiness to people is so very important and it means the world to me.
"Kath O’brien had a very lonely life in her early years and was very quiet and timid. I introduced Kath to Just Good Friends which changed her life forever. Kath has had several bouts of illness but with the help and love of Just Good Friends she has come through smiling. Kath now has a great circle of friends, so her life has changed from loneliness to happiness.”
Back in 2015, after being surprised on TV’s Surprise Surprise by the dance group Diversity, Bev set up a ‘Wish List’ for Just God Friends members – and the response was overwhelming.
“For instance, Kath had a wish to go up in a hot air balloon, with a few other members, so we contacted Virgin and the wish was granted,” said Bev. “It was a lovely day and many went with Kath to support her on the ride.
“Kath said it was so calm, beautiful and peaceful and the loneliness just blew away.
“Katie Crabtree told me she would love to meet up with Carl Fogarty, the motor racing champion, as she had seen Carl many years before at the TT Races, so I got in touch with Carl and he was delighted to meet Katie. He also arranged for a bike to be sent to St Annes too.
"Katie and her supporters met Carl and she popped on his bike. She told Carl that she would never let him go and wanted to ride into the sunset with him.
“Thanks so much Carl from us all at Just Good Friends for the most special memories you gave to Katie, she will never forget your kindness.
“Two ladies who came to our dance class, Freda and Maureen, told me their wish was to meet Sir Ken Dodd. They had been massive fans of Ken for 40 years and had been to see his shows but their wish was to meet him. Luckily for me on the day the the may or Fylde, John Singleton, said leave it with him and boy did he do it.
“The next thing was for John and the mayoress to pick up the two ladies in the mayoral car and take them to the Grand Theatre, where Ken was performing. They went in one of the boxes at the Grand and were so excited as they met Sir Ken.
“Another lovely wish came true for Helen Munn, our very own Dancing Queen, when she said she would love to dance and sing on stage with an ABBA Tribute Act and her wish came true when they appeared at St Annes Palace. Also our Dancing Queen found her Prince Charming and recently got married, dancing into St Annes Palace to that song.
“Adi Cockett has been with Just Good Friends for a long time now and despite her disabilities always has a smile on her face. When Adi told me about her wish, I thought this should be easy to fix.
All she wanted to do was dip her feet in the sea and because of her disabilities she was unable to take that walk to the sea.
"I contacted Fylde Council and found they did have a beach wheelchair and a lovely man from the council came to help on the day, as did the coastguard. Adi was also delighted when many of here friends came along to support her as many hadn’t gone paddling for such a long long time.
“The most important thing is how we have changed people’s lives over the ten years along with some of the amazing thanks we have received.
“Our thanks to every single person who has helped Just Good Friends over the 10 years. We have some amazing volunteers, patrons, trustees, along with supporting companies such as Beaverbrooks, Glasdon, plus AKS School, Rotary Lytham, Rotary St Annes, Fylde Council, St AnnesTown Council and many more. None of what we have done would have been possible without their love and support.
“A final thought is that the funniest thing that happened was when one of our lovely members was stroking what she thought was a member’s dog>She’d been doing it for quite a while until she noticed it wasn’t the dog she was stroking it was the leg of a police officer who had popped in to see us. He didn’t seem to mind though.
“Just Good Friends would like to raise a glass to everyone and wish you all lots of love, companionship and friendship. We are only a phone call away.”