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Valentine's Day: organised with love

Groups of older people, sat a multiple tables, gathered to watch a performance

“We did something that seemed impossible.”

Ximena Chiesa, Activities & Events Team Leader at Age UK Kensington & Chelsea, explains how Valentine’s Day has quickly become the biggest and most sociable date in their calendar.



Valentine’s Day, for many, is an opportunity to celebrate love.

But for older people in the west London area, many of whom live alone and may have lost a partner or spouse, it presents a welcome chance to get out of the house, meet friends and enjoy an afternoon of entertainment. It’s a celebration Age UK Kensington & Chelsea have been putting on for many years and has grown steadily in popularity.

In fact, last year’s do was attended by some 450 people, making it the local Age UK’s best attended fixture in the calendar - even more so than their celebrations during the Christmas period - and one that people in the area are very enthusiastic about.

A large group of older people gathered at multiple tables, waiting for an event
The event always proves popular
A large group of older people gathered at multiple tables, waiting for an event
The event always proves popular

A lesson soon learned

Ximena (pronounced ‘Cha-men-na’) has worked at Age UK Kensington & Chelsea for 10 years, and is responsible for organising the many activities, events and outings throughout the year. While these represent fun things for older people to get involved with, their aim is serious.

“I always tell them that our main purpose is to reduce isolation and loneliness,” explains Ximena. “And the activities we’re putting on are an excuse for us all to come together. We help older people to engage and socialise with each other, which helps friendships to form, so we need to engage members and volunteers to do that. It’s important we know our members and what their interests are, while making sure we improve our services based on their feedback.”

Early in her role, Ximena made an important observation. While Christmas is understandably a period when feelings of loneliness and isolation intensify, compounded by long dark nights, cold weather and long-term health conditions, there are no end of invitations for older people by Age UK Kensington & Chelsea to come together.

In the weeks afterwards, however, there were less chances to do so - with noticeable effects on older people once the services started up again in the New Year.

“In my first year, when I came back to work after the Christmas period, it took a lot to motivate older people to engage again. It became clear that as our activities finish around 20th December and don’t resume again until January when the weather is horrible and people are unlikely to want to go out, then it’s a long time to go without socialising. We decided that people needed to have something to look forward to.”

A group singing
Entertainment from Opera Holland Park
A group singing
Entertainment from Opera Holland Park

The following Christmas, Ximena’s team decided to send out a ‘save the date’ for a party for Valentine’s Day. It’s fair to say the response was enthusiastic. “During the Christmas break, we had so many emails from people wanting to attend,” reveals Ximena.

While Valentine’s Day has connotations of romance, invites to the event make clear it’s a celebration of friendship and community. To acknowledge the contributions of people in the local area, it’s not only members who are invited to this Valentine’s shindig, but other organisations, to make the day as inclusive as possible.

So, what happens during the Valentine’s Day festivities? Previously, they’ve included chocolates, cards made by children from local schools, afternoon tea, lively conversations and a concert. “For 10 years, the concert has been led by Opera Holland Park,” says Ximena. “But they don’t just perform opera - they also do well-known romantic songs.”

If we all bring love, then we can help to reduce loneliness and isolation.


The people have spoken

In 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic and its many lockdowns, Age UK Kensington & Chelsea were unable to offer their services in the usual way, as they had to ensure that older people – one of the most vulnerable demographics – were kept safe. There was a short lockdown that December, so in January 2022 the difficult decision was made to cancel the Valentine’s Day event. When the news reached members, they were understandably disappointed.

“We had 29 complaints from members,” reveals Ximena. “They told us how much they wanted and needed to meet up again after the lockdown. After seeing just how important it was to people who needed it, we decided we had to put it on. It’s something we usually take six months to organise, but this time we managed to do it in two weeks. We had to have reduced numbers to ensure everyone was safe, but we found the money and did something that seemed impossible. I wanted to cry.”

While last year’s Valentine’s Day event attracted an incredible 450 attendees, Ximena expects there to be as many as 500 at this year's event on Friday 9th February. And what, however many people are there, does Ximena think makes this event work as well as it does?

“It sounds cheesy but the only way to do what we do is with love,” she tells us. “Loving what we are doing and caring for each other. This is the message we send every year. If we all bring love, then we can help to reduce loneliness and isolation.”

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There are more than 125 local Age UKs throughout England, each offering their own events, groups and activities.

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Last updated: Feb 14 2024

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