Cakes bring smiles to care homes
A MUM was so alarmed when she discovered that as many as 1.9 million older people in the UK feel ignored or invisible she decided to do something about it.
Sarah Byfield had always loved baking so hatched a plan to use her skills in the kitchen to combat loneliness.
She knew only too well the happiness a freshly baked sponge brought to her friends and family - so why not make a stranger's day by presenting them with a birthday cake?
Sarah, 36, who lives in Staple Hill, explained: "I work in insurance for the over 50s and often see research about loneliness and how it affects old people. Some of the statistics are really sad - apparently 3.5 million adults in the UK would cite the television as their main source of company. I wondered what I could do to make an impact.
"I'm a member of a cake baking group on Facebook and saw that there is an initiative in America where people bake for terminally ill children for their birthday, which I thought was a really lovely idea but wasn't sure how it would work over here. It got me thinking I could do something similar for older people on their birthdays. I think everyone has the right to feel special on their birthday."
Enthused by her brainwave and its capacity to do good, Sarah got in touch with Alive Activities, a charity that works towards ending loneliness in older people.
"I got in touch to say that if there were residents without family I would really like to bake for them. The idea was that I could eventually get other volunteer bakers involved, matching them up with care homes across the city."
Calling the free service the Bake a Smile project, Sarah set up a Facebook page back in October and says the response has been "unbelievable". "At the moment I've got about 100 people signed up who have pledged their time to bake and visit. We've already made about 15 cakes for people and I have a list of about 30 to do after Christmas. I'll also be going out to more care homes to find other elderly people who might benefit."
The idea is that the baker makes a cake and goes to a care home on or around a person's birthday. They present them with the cake - sometimes it might be a surprise, other times they will be expecting the visit - and spend some time talking with them.
So far volunteers have been to care homes in Frenchay, Winterbourne, Westbury-on-Trym, Redland, Hengrove and Bath but next year Sarah would like to expand the service even further. As her volunteers come from a wide area - including Downend, Emersons Green, Mangotsfield, Warmley, Brislington, Bedminster, Bradley Stoke, Nailsea and Portishead - Sarah is keen to hear from care homes in those areas so she can match bakers to people. "As long as there is a baker near a care home, we can arrange it," she said.
Sarah, like many of her bakers, takes her children, Harry, 10, and two-year-old Grace, with her as she has discovered older people love to see young children.
"The first lady I baked for was 91 and she held hands with my daughter while she blew the candles out. We then sat and chatted for a while before sharing the cake out between the residents.
"I always take a bunch of flowers and a card with me as well so they've got a little present. The feedback from residents has been amazing. One woman burst into tears when her care home told her someone was coming in with a birthday cake for her."
Sarah, an avid baker, who made both her brother and sister's wedding cakes, held a Big Christmas Bake with teams of volunteers going into care homes across Bristol with mince pies and Christmas cake.
Volunteers who want to join the scheme pay for the ingredients themselves and agree to give up their time to make a visit.
It's not about the quality of the cake; it's about the gesture and spending quality time with someone to show there are people who care about them on their birthday."
Sarah admits to feeling very emotional about her project: "You can see the older people's faces light up and they're just so happy that someone has come in and made a fuss of them on their birthday.
"A gentlemen I baked for passed away a couple of weeks after I went to see him. The care home contacted me to say thank you for making his last birthday so special. It just goes to show how important it is to make every birthday special and to make every moment count.
"If I can make someone smile on their birthday, then that makes me very happy."
Sarah is looking for more bakers but also wants to hear from people if they know someone who would benefit from a visit - and a cake - on their birthday. "Giving a cake is such a simple thing but it makes such a huge difference to people."
You can get in touch will Sarah via her Facebook page, The Bake a Smile project, or call her on 0784 7408420.