Serving older people through play and presence in Southampton

Serving older people through play and presence in Southampton

Caraway is a ministry to older people operating in Southampton and the surrounding area that involves many of our churches, aiming to have a Caraway volunteer in every parish. It was set up by Revd Erica Roberts, based at Highfield Church, who felt called to working with older people during her curacy in 2010 and joined a care home team where, she said, “learned more about God in that setting than anywhere else. I learned that God can and does speak through men and women who are very frail and may not have a cognitive understanding of God anymore, but the Holy Spirit still works deeply through them’.

Caraway was launched in 2018 and now offers various services including Anna Chaplaincy and specialist ministry to people with dementia, such as Memory Cafes and, through NHS partnerships, a course for newly the newly diagnosed and their carers. The volunteer chaplains all receive supervision by Caraway but are ministering in their local churches, communities and in care homes.

We used to send big teams into care homes, with musicians, to lead services. But after Covid we have been working much more according to Jesus’s instruction to ‘go out in twos’, visiting care homes and leading acts of worship but also just being a presence, perhaps spending time with those who don’t ever have any visitors.

– Erica Roberts

The pandemic also had an unexpected benefit of helping the Caraway chaplains reach some of most isolated older folk through live streaming, and now they continue to offer a mixed model. “For example,” explained Erica, “we run ‘Holiday at Home’ gathered events with lots of fun activities, craft and quizzes, but we now also do these via Zoom too for people who can’t gather. We also offer Holiday at Home resources to local churches.”

Holiday at Home gathered event

Penny Thatcher is a second year curate in Chandlers Ford who is currently splitting her curacy, half in parish and half as a Caraway chaplain to Older People. Penny has been trained in using various resources, including the ‘Out of the Box’ materials, which help older people access play in worship – using physical items including soft material, figures and blocks to enter worship through storytelling.

The aim is to draw out people’s stories by ‘wondering’ together, rather than asking direct questions which they wouldn’t necessarily be able to answer. So we say ‘I wonder where you would put yourself in this picture…’ for example.

For me there is something about helping people to know that God is for them whatever their cognitive ability and helping them find their spirituality whatever their situation. Even if they can’t remember themselves, they are always remembered by God.

– Penny Thatcher

DATE FOR DIARIES: Refresh and Resource Day: ‘Facing the Final Frontier – Death, Dying and Bereavement’, Wed 15 March, 9.30-3.30, Highfield Church, Southampton. This is an interactive day run by Caraway with outside speakers coming to share their practical experience of walking with someone at the end of life and supporting the bereaved afterwards. All welcome, especially for those working in pastoral situations with older people. To book please email

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