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Volunteering and cooking up a storm

Sixty-six-year-old former nurse, Tricia Hegde, has been running Royal Voluntary Service’s Mill End Lunch Club in Rickmansworth for nine years. The club is open five days a week and provides a lifeline to older people in the community, offering tasty home-cooked food and all-important company.

How and why did you start volunteering?

I first became involved in the lunch club when I helped a friend who was volunteering with Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) and they were short-staffed. My friend just needed a hand and so, of course, I was happy to help. That was nine years ago now! I ended up staying because I could see how amazing the service was, and now I’m running the show.

What does your role involve?

I will cook once a week, for around 20 diners who all come from the local area. I will always make a couple of extra meals, just in case a few others turn up. I come in around 9am and lunch is served at 12.30pm, so that gives us a chance to do all the prep and cook and squeeze in a quick coffee break before everyone arrives.

It’s lovely to feed people and provide a place for them to get together. It’s a special place to be.

My role also involves recruiting and managing volunteers; we have around 30 currently. I will order the food and manage the club’s finances too. Generally, I spend six hours a week on club business, but I always make sure that I have Wednesdays off, as this is the day I spend with my grandchildren. 

How does the lunch club benefit the local community?

People come here to have a nice lunch, but they get so much more. They make new friends, and some have even found new partners, which is just lovely. Coming to our lunch club may be the only time a member will eat with other people or have a warm, cooked meal, so it is important. It’s lovely to feed people and provide a place for them to get together. It’s a special place to be.

Did you have any cooking experience before you started?

I’ve never cooked professionally, but we have a rota of dishes that we make and which our diners really enjoy, such as shepherd’s pie, lasagne and casseroles. You get to know who’s coming for lunch, so I always try to make sure I make things those people like.

Would you recommend volunteering to run a lunch club?

Yes definitely. If there is not one in your area, then it would be amazing to set one up, or if not, a different sort of social club or activity. You can’t underestimate the social impact that it has and it’s so rewarding for the volunteers too. And volunteering is a great way to stay active and keep busy, I’m made so many new friends along the way.

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