Thursday, 1 March 2018

Powys Befrienders - knitting for wellbeing

When I have time, especially in the winter, I like to knit and listen to the radio. I find it very therapeutic. Its rhythmic and repetitive nature has often been compared to meditation. Many of my office colleagues knit too, and we love to pass on tips about our favourite yarns and patterns. We might have a bonding moment or two comparing bamboo knitting needles and angora wools when the broadband dips out for a couple of minutes…

This Tuesday I was invited to meet another friendly group of knitters and crocheters at Abbeyfield House in Newtown for their regular fortnightly session. If you’re a knitting enthusiast, you’ve probably come across the Knit & Natter concept. This incarnation is the Newtown Knit Tea Together group set up by the Powys Befriending Service. (Read Powys Befrienders – it’s given me back my life for more on this PAVO project generally). It was snowing, so not all the regulars had been able to make it, but Eileen, Betty and Carol were joined by first-timer Olive for a chat, loads of laughs, and plenty of knitting, sewing and crocheting.

Olive works on a twiddle mitt
This week they were busy making twiddle mitts and cushions for people locally living with dementia. (Online pattern for knitters!) “People with dementia are always looking for things to touch,” they explained, “so we sew bells, beads, eyes and Velcro to the mitts, and people find them very therapeutic.” While I was there Lesley Austen, the Powys Befriending Services Co-ordinator, arrived to gather up mounds of the mitts to take to Bethshan Care Home, also in Newtown. Past group projects have included making baby blankets for local maternity services, and creating colourful knitted toys and clothes to raise funds for the group. At a market stall in Glanhafren, Newtown Market Hall, on 8 December, they raised £380 through sales, and are now planning a summer stall.

While the women sit and sew they swop tips, plan trips – including activities and shopping – and update each other about the latest local news stories. They happily share their skills, and experience. Carol promises to teach 
Olive how to crochet the next time they meet. There’s a haberdashery moment and in five minutes Eileen’s volunteering to shop at her favourite supplier for all the others. And who would have known that the best and cheapest way to stuff a knitted doll is to pull a pillow apart for the filling? 

L-R: Lesley (Powys Befriending Service Co-ordinator), Olive & Eileen
"Tell me again, what's a split stitch in knitting...?"
Why we like to knit and crochet

"It relaxes you. It keeps your hands moving. It you have arthritis it helps to keep them moving. You have to keep active."

"It keeps your brain moving too! If you’ve got one! It helps keep your mind off a lot of problems. You can take it out in your knitting. You go faster if you’re in a bad mood!"

Several members of the Newtown Knit Tea Together group are also active Powys Befriending Service volunteers in their local community. The two volunteers present tell me about the clients they support. One is a gentleman with Parkinson’s disease who is visited at home, and another is a lady who is supported to attend afternoon teas at the Smithfield Bell in Welshpool, or the Lakeside Restaurant at the golf course near Montgomery.

Carol does crochet... and is also a PB volunteer

Later Lesley told me more about Eileen’s contribution as a Powys Befriending Service volunteer:

Eileen’s husband died after a prolonged illness and was bedridden for the last 6 months of his life. He did not want to be in hospital so Eileen had cared for him at home supported by Health and Social Services. For over a year she had rarely left the house and had lost a lot of confidence about going out on her own as well as suffering from grief and loneliness. Her daughter referred her to the Powys Befriending Service and accompanied her to one of our group lunches.

Eileen was very chatty and helped people sitting around her. At the end of the session, when I asked how she had got on, she said she loved it: “But I’m so much better off than some of the others, wouldn’t I be of more use helping them?”

Eileen duly attended the Befriending Induction training, got her DBS (Disclosure & Barring Service) approval and two glowing references and asked “When do I start?” She didn’t want to have to drive too far, so I matched her to a housebound gentleman with early stage dementia and other health needs who lived a few miles away. As we approached the gentleman’s house she told me she and her husband used to walk in the area and used to chat to a lovely man tending his garden – and this was the gentleman she was getting matched to!

Both he and his wife recognised Eileen and were delighted to see a familiar face. The client has memory loss and several health conditions requiring appointments and visits, so we agreed Eileen would visit every two weeks. The match is a great success – both client and volunteer share a farming background and enjoy talking about farming and the local countryside, reading the local paper and following sports events on TV. 

The client’s wife now has a regular couple of undisturbed hours when she can do things that she enjoys, getting out in the garden, baking and having a chat on the phone with friends, which she had not previously been able to do easily, having to keep an ear and eye out for her husband’s needs.

This still left Eileen with time on her hands and a will to help people, so she asked if it would be possible to have another client to see on alternate weeks and is now also matched with a lady who had no means of getting out and about. She takes this lady to an afternoon tea group, and is now supporting the group by helping with clients.

Eileen then asked if she could come along to the Newtown Knit Tea Together group as she loves knitting and sewing, and after a few sessions she and another volunteer were quite happy to run the group themselves with me in the background for occasional support. Lots of our female clients list amongst their interests knitting, crochet and sewing, but no longer have anyone to make things for. Eileen soon armed them with patterns, needles and wool and got them making baby clothes in premature sizes, which we now send in regular parcels to Special Care Baby Units in Welsh Hospitals.

Oh did I mention…………… Eileen is 86 years young!

Eileen told me “I get as much out of being a volunteer as the people we help. It’s been a lifeline to me since I lost my husband.”

Betty with one of her knitted dolls

If you would like to join the Newtown Knit Tea Together group run by the Powys Befriending Service (don’t worry if you can’t knit, sew or crochet – there are plenty who will happily teach you) then give Lesley a call to find out more on 01597 822191 or email:

Are you a knitter or crocheter? Does it help boost your emotional wellbeing? Let us know in the comments box below.


  1. Brilliant! Everyone welcome - come along and join in or come along just for the chat (and the tea and cake!)

  2. Great blog post, well done to all the creative craftsfolk and befrienders! I've got a knitting page on my blog, having taken it up again in 2015 when I experienced a mental health crisis after years of campaigning as a carer:

    1. Hi Chrys

      I've just spotted this - thanks for commenting. Yes, I've seen many of your knitted creations on your Twitter account and am always amazed by the sheer volume of output and also the lovely patterns you manage to incorporate! Happy knitting!


  3. What a lovely post. I was lucky enough to meet Betty and see some of her amazing knitted dolls and... sheep, when I visited the Barbara Lewis House with Aunty Katy. Heartwarming stories and really interesting to learn about twiddle mitts! The Befriending Service sounds brilliant. I am inspired to learn to knit!

    1. Thanks for commenting and we enjoyed hearing of your visit to the Barbara Lewis House! The Befriending Service is indeed brilliant. Good luck with your knitting!