A Bolton group which looks to bring people together is hoping to expand.

A former NHS nurse, 78-year-old Marjorie Hayward personally experienced loneliness after moving back to the UK from Spain, where she had lived for years.

In 2016, while living in Chorley, Marjorie founded the ‘Friends for You’ charity, to help people meet new people and combat loneliness.

After Covid, Marjorie, who has since moved to Bolton, redoubled her efforts. Talkin’ Tables was launched in July 2021, and there are now 80 groups.

The Bolton News: Founder Marjorie Hayward has received awards, including the Points of Light and a BBC Make a Difference AwardFounder Marjorie Hayward has received awards, including the Points of Light and a BBC Make a Difference Award (Image: Jack Fifield, Newsquest)

The Thyme Deli group is one of eight in the borough, with others in Westhoughton, Bromley Crossing, Horwich, Rivington, and Egerton.

The ‘table’ regularly sees 12 to 14 people attending on any given week.

There’s a jovial atmosphere around the table, with conversation aiming to be inclusive – something key to the organisation, which insists each venue is wheelchair accessible. The group’s code of conduct strictly bans any hate speech or discrimination.

Each group has a ‘table leader’ – a volunteer to who helps co-ordinate the weekly meeting.

At the Thyme Deli group, the table leader is Madeleine Brierley.

A retiree, Madeleine moved to Horwich 15 years ago and has been a part of the Thyme Deli group since it started.

Madeleine said: “It started off with quite a lot of people, there must have been probably eight people most weeks.

“Sometimes it’s like it is today, with 12 to 14 people, it’s rarely less than eight people. You’ve got the core of the group who turn up every week.

“It’s very daunting, it was daunting for me when I first came – especially when there were people here who knew each other quite well, went to school together even.

“I haven’t got those links in the area at all, so it’s been very useful for me, because now I can walk through Horwich and hear ‘hi Madeleine’, which didn’t happen before – nobody knew me at all before.”

The Bolton News: The group is held in Horwich's Thyme DeliThe group is held in Horwich's Thyme Deli (Image: Jack Fifield, Newsquest)

According to Madeleine, most at the group are widows or single.

Talkin’ Tables has filled a social gap.

She continued: “I think what was missing before was a hub, somewhere that’s safe. It’s a public place, other people are coming and going. It’s a social place.

“The fact that this was in a cafe, anyone can walk into a cafe, can’t they, and sit nearby.”

Having been a nurse in the NHS, Marjorie called loneliness ‘a killer condition’.

She said: “It’s very incapacitating for the person who’s on their own, they sit in their four walls, day-in day-out watching dreary daytime TV, and having nowhere to go.

“During Covid lots of people lost their friends, their friendship groups, the people they knew, they lost relatives and spouses – Covid was devastating for everybody, particularly for older people and lonely people."

The Bolton News: Left to right: Co-ordinator Lynne Croston, table leader Madeleine Brierley, and founder Marjorie Hayward Left to right: Co-ordinator Lynne Croston, table leader Madeleine Brierley, and founder Marjorie Hayward (Image: Jack Fifield, Newsquest)

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A chance to gossip

But what of the conversation at the table? While nothing is off topic, the group tends to shy away from certain subjects, such as politics.

Table leader Madeleine said: “It’s not generally a subject that is brought up. In this group, anyway, politics hasn’t cropped up – occasionally someone will make a comment about something that’s in the news.

“Generally, it kind of gets… not skirted over or ignored, but it’s not generally brought into. Anything that’s very divisive wouldn’t be a good idea.

“There’s no bar on anyone talking about anything, but we self-choose not to bring anything divisive into the conversation.”

“It’s not for soapboxes and people standing on their soapboxes,” Marjorie added.

Instead, conversation often turns to light-hearted matters; ‘gossip,’ 80-year-old Annette tells me.

Sitting on one end of the table with Annette, was 81-year-old Maureen, 82-year-old Brenda, 72-year-old Sue, and 76-year-old Chris. The group were keen to point out that they are not lonely, having each other as friends.

Earlier this year, many members of the group even went on a trip to the Isle of Wight together.

Brenda said: “What happened in the Isle of Wight, stays in the Isle of Wight.”

Groups ‘very welcoming’

Each Talkin’ Tables group has a different makeup and demographic. While the Thyme Deli group is mostly women, anyone is welcome – with other groups being more mixed.

Sue, who attends the Thyme Deli and Tesco Middlebrook groups, said: “It is very hard to walk in somewhere on your own, but to be honest, when I walked in to Middlebrook I didn’t know a soul.

“These sort of groups are very welcoming, it made it a lot easier.

“It’s very hard walking into somewhere new, whether it’s here or in the pub for a pint, or going on holiday on your own, it’s so hard – but everyone has been so welcoming.”

The Bolton News: Left to right: Sue (72), Chris (76), Annette (80), Maureen (81), and Brenda (82) attend the groupLeft to right: Sue (72), Chris (76), Annette (80), Maureen (81), and Brenda (82) attend the group (Image: Jack Fifield, Newsquest)

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Looking for more help

Now, founder Marjorie, who won a Points of Light award from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in November, and has been invited to a Buckingham Palace garden party, is looking for help as the organisation has become larger.

Anyone who wants to get involved in the group can contact Marjorie at marjorie@talkintables.co.uk.

She said: “It’s been nearly three years and it’s still growing and expanding. It needs somebody who understands business, someone who understands social enterprise – somebody who is an expansionist, someone who can run this thing for me, and reach lonely people wherever they are.

“It works because it’s a trio: myself, the venue owner, and the table leader.”

Talkin’ Tables meets between 10.30am and 11.30am every Monday at Thyme Deli. Groups meet at different parts of the borough on every weekday, with more details available on the organisation’s website.

If you have a story, I cover the whole borough of Bolton. Please get in touch at jack.fifield@newsquest.co.uk.