Robyn Wheate, Doreen Fuller and Vivienne Heuvel are all original members of the Canberra Catch-up.
When 67-year-old Doreen Fuller first moved to Canberra, she spent most of her time at home. Her family lived interstate and as she was new to the area, she didn’t know anyone.
“For the first months I moved to Canberra, I stayed home,” recalls Doreen. “I was totally new to Canberra and didn't know anyone at all. And I just thought this is ridiculous, I'm just staying at home and I'm bored stiff.”
Doreen soon decided she couldn’t continue this way any longer, she knew she had to go out and meet new people and make new friends.
“I thought nobody is going to knock on my door. I want to meet new people and get to know Canberra, and I just had to go do it and I did,” says Doreen. “I saw the ad [for the Canberra Catch-ups on the Over60 website] and I went along. I was one of the first people in the Canberra Catch-ups and since then it's just grown.”
The group has rapidly expanded from a few ladies catching up every so often to a regular fortnightly meeting of over 20 women. The group has become so popular that Doreen, now the official organiser for the Canberra Catch-ups, has her hands full trying to find different cafes and venues around Canberra that can cater to such big groups.
Doreen adds that the group doesn’t just see each other at their fortnightly catch-ups, many of the women have become good friends.
“A lot of the women have met up on other occasions separately. I've had two or three of the women over for a lunch, and another couple I’ve had coffee with on different occasions,” says Doreen. “It's become a little bit more than just every second Sunday. We've become friends.”
For Doreen, who a few months ago was going a little mad spending all her time at home, the new friendships she’s made in a new area has been so rewarding.
“I'm sure if I didn't have all these contacts – and I'm part of another group as well – I'd be sitting here just depressed and watching TV all day,” says Doreen, continuing, “It gives you the enthusiasm to get dressed and get ready and go. You also know you have others that you can call and meet up for coffee. You just need that because all the ladies in the group are more or less on their own. And you need that company.”
Doreen encourages all older people to take that first step and reach out to make new connections in their life.
“You can't just bury yourself away in a home or a unit or a whatever, you've got to connect with adults and have adult conversations. You've got to be able to go out,” she says, adding, “People aren't just going to knock on your door, you've just got to make that initial first contact.”
Doreen understands that it can be difficult for some to reach out or to turn up to meet a group of strangers, but says that once you do, it can open up a whole new world.
“It is difficult for some people to take the first step and come along. But as each new person contacted me [as I am the organiser] I called them so they kind of have somebody they know there,” she says, adding, “I don't think it's easier to make friends when you're older or younger, but you just have to make that initial contact. And that's what these women have done. You know a lot of them don’t have their families aren't around and they just need that friendship.”
From feeling quite alone in a new town when she first moved, Doreen now has a big group of friends that she can count on for a chat, laugh and some great company.
“It's really worked out. I think everyone enjoys each other's company. We’re all pretty much the same but from different walks of life.”
Doreen’s parting words of wisdom is not to underestimate the impact a group of friends can have in your life, particularly for older people.
“Friends are important. They absolutely are,” she states, adding, “Otherwise you stay at home and become lonely and depressed. I think a lot of older women are susceptible to depression but if you have all these friends, you can always call them up and go have coffee or you know you can see them on the second Sunday [at the Catch-up].”
She adds, “You need friends and friendships. You need that. Absolutely need it.”