HMR Circle: £3 lunch every week, hot air ballooning, visit to an alpaca farm

Date published: 27 December 2019

A £3 lunch every week, including dessert, and a catchup with your friends? Sounds pretty good.

But a visit to an alpaca farm to see the fuzzy little animals and learn more about them? Even better.

How about hot air ballooning across the Lake District with your friends? Pretty awesome, right?

Aroob Raja, who is studying journalism at Salford University has been working with Heywood, Middleton & Rochdale Circle (HMR Circle) as part of her course to find out more about how Circle, a non-profit organisation, was combating social isolation amongst older people – by asking participants what they want to.


HMR Circle visit to a local manufacture
HMR Circle visit to a local manufacture 


Aroob said: "It’s the fantasies above that HMR Circle bring to life when hosting events for over 800 members, aged 50+."

HMR Circle is all about combatting social isolation amongst older people in Heywood, Middleton, Rochdale and the Pennine Villages, however, this isn’t your typical non-profit organisation.

Offering an array of spectacular activities, ranging from abseiling down Rochdale Town Hall to watching jazz band performances, HMR Circle work towards hosting events that will get their members out of the house to be a part of a social network built up of like-minded people.

HMR Circle initially acted as part of a larger experiment to work with older people in the Rochdale borough, but they were unfortunately met with a lack of funding in 2012 and on the brink of closing. However, after noticing something special, the original concept was adapted and developed into the success that it is today.

Mark Wynn, director of the organisation, has been with HMR Circle since October 2012, and says that although they are there to combat social isolation, they very rarely use that phrase around members.

“You could say we’re going to put on an event for older people who are socially isolated, and nobody will come. Because in reality, you’re putting on what you think they want,” he explained passionately.

“We flip it and we ask them what they want, and we put on the things they ask.”


HMR Circle


According to a report conducted at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2018/19, research found that of 83 Circle members asked, half of them attend events for socialising whilst the other half attend for other reasons, such as enjoyment or improving confidence. Of 87 members asked whether these events make them feel closer to other people on a scale of 1-10, the average was 7.15. These few statistics alone are evidence that HMR Circle’s efforts are affecting older people’s wellbeing whilst ensuring they are living a positive lifestyle in Rochdale.

Mark shares a heartfelt story of a woman who hadn’t left her house in three years due to various circumstances. After visiting her about the gardening service HMR Circle offer, he promised he would get her out for at least one event.

He recalled: “I gave her one of our leaflets with different activities on and she said she was going to come out tomorrow, the day after… and she said it was because we asked her what she wanted to do, what she’d like to do. We didn’t tell her, and we weren’t telling her that you need to go out and do this. It was all her choice and that gave her the confidence to join in. You look back at that and it’s these things that tell you you’re onto something.”

As well as hosting events, HMR Circle offer a volunteer drivers service to assist members, and a team of volunteer practical helpers who are there to offer skills members may not necessarily have; these can include completing DIY jobs, gardening, or even learning to use technology.

Kim Ho was one of those volunteers six years ago, starting as a handyman and working his way towards community engagement officer. He shares how he doesn’t view his job as a job, but rather an extension of what he likes to do anyway.

“It’s meeting people, getting people engaged and actually putting a smile on people’s faces – it’s priceless,” he said, humbly.


HMR Circle lunch


Kim was in charge of getting more men to participate in events when he joined, sharing that men are more difficult to help to socialise than women are, as they prefer to know others before attending anything. With this in mind, Kim helped set up a ‘Breakfast for Blokes’ event where a group of men go out for breakfast every Thursday in Rochdale.

Patrick Madden, a member for four years, is one of those men, and in fact shares that the event is a favourite of his, alongside the newly formed luncheon on Tuesdays. “I’ve made a lot of friends and I wouldn’t have known them if it wasn’t for this organisation,” he said, gratefully.

“It’s being a part of a group and a community… when you’re in Heywood, Middleton or Rochdale, you’ll see someone from the Circle, and you can stand and have a chat with them. Otherwise you’d be walking around talking to yourself.”

Despite being an independent organisation, HMR Circle are no strangers to international visitors. With several visits from similar organisations in South Korea alone, and other visits from America and Japan, HMR Circle are sparking the conversation as to how exactly the wellbeing of older people can be improved.

Volunteer of just over seven months and a former Circle member, Jackie Hooley has constantly strived to make all members feel welcomed and remembered. After the unfortunate passing of her husband, Jackie understood the importance of not isolating herself from society. Deciding to attend the Morrisons lunch meetups on Tuesdays, Jackie began to make an active change to her lifestyle which eventually resulted in her being asked to volunteer.

“I’ve been going for about eight months and [the members and I] got to know each other. You know their home life, you can actually judge on their faces whether they’ve had a good day or bad day,” she shared. “Our oldest member was 93 years old and she had no family. Just to put balloons up and make a little card… it’s worthwhile, just seeing that absolute appreciation. It pays off, it does.”

Some newer members, like Pat Keeffe, member for over a year now, look to HMR Circle for getting out of their house and participating in activities. HMR Circle was recommended to Pat by her doctor, who suggested this could help her to socialise and be involved.

“Even though [HMR Circle] doesn’t belong to family, because family have got their own problems, even though they are strangers, it’s nice to know that there’s people I can talk to,” she says, appreciatively.


HMR Circle


With people flying across the world to see what HMR Circle are up to, and the stream of appreciation coming from members, it’s clear that this organisation is thriving.

Nonetheless, they are always looking for support from local businesses and residents, so if you are interested in contributing, give them a call on 01706 751165 or visit their website:

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