Victoria and Amina met a little over a year ago. They’re close friends who drink tea together, gossip about their lives, discuss what’s in the news, and give one another advice. The one thing that makes their friendship different? Their 57-year age gap.
“Age is just a number,” Amina, 86, tells me, as I sit chatting to her and Victoria in her flat in south west London. “When I first saw Victoria I thought: ‘That’s the girl for me’”. Victoria laughs. “Ditto,” she says.
The pair have seen each other weekly for a few hours since they met in spring 2017. They hit it off straight away, having been matched through a local charity’s ‘Love Your Neighbour’ friendship scheme. The programme is all about the positive impact of intergenerational friendships: about company, conversation, and learning from one another in a city that so often keeps us divided.
What started off as a volunteering opportunity for the younger woman has become so much more than that. “I don’t feel like I’m a volunteer anymore, it’s an authentic friendship,” she says, before adding, “she’s like my family.”
Prior to meeting, Amina didn’t have many visitors or much interaction at home. South London Cares (SLC), a charity that aims to look after older neighbours in the community, first met Amina through door-knocking during their winter wellbeing project: a seasonal outreach programme to reach isolated residents and help them stay safe and warm during the cold winter months.
“I was so happy,” Amina says about opening the door to SLC. “I was happy someone was actually coming to see me.”
Having signed up to the volunteer scheme, Victoria was matched with Amina due to their shared interest in fashion. Victoria works in the industry and, well, Amina is known for wearing fabulous clothes. She wore a zingy, zebra-printed scarf to their first meeting, the replica of a scarf that Victoria also had at home. Friendship at first sight.
Victoria – who was slightly nervous – was desperate to make a good impression and brought home-made lentil and chorizo soup for Amina, only to find out that her new friend couldn’t eat pork (it’s something they laugh about now).
Their “first date”, as they like to call it, was spent learning about each other and their lives. To say they hit it off would be an understatement.
“I called up to see if she wanted a second date,” Victoria laughs. “It did feel like I was dating. And it carried on like that, each week I would call up the day before and ask if I could come round again. Now, I just turn up.”
When I ask the ladies what they chat about, they look at each other and smile. “Oh everything,” Victoria laughs. She turns to Amina, who nods and agrees. Life, love and everything in between, they elaborate – including politics. “She’s my newsreader,” says Victoria. “She knows what’s going on in the world and we’ll discuss what’s happening and how it affects us.”
They tell each other about their families. Their upbringings. Their friends. Their work. Amina, who grew up in Zimbabwe, will often share stories about her childhood and how different it was to life in England. And as well as stories, the pair also exchange advice. “She’s so wise,” Victoria exclaims. “She’s very switched on and I learn a lot from her, although she does keep telling me to make babies and I keep saying, ‘Not now!’”
“I want to meet her babies,” Amina fires back, adding: “She keeps me young, she’s very, very good to me. When I first met her, I thought she might give up, but she always came back.”
Victoria’s visits have changed since Amina became bed-bound in December 2017. But the nature of their friendship hasn’t. “She makes tea and will bring it to me,” says Amina. “She’ll even wash my hair. For some young people, old people worry them but she’s not worried. It’s like I’ve got another old person.”
When I first met her, I thought she might give up, but she always came back." Amina, 86
The pair reminisce about some of their favourite times together, which often involve delicious food. Victoria has taken to cooking up a storm in Amina’s kitchen – her last hit was Malaysian fried rice, chicken and vegetables – which she takes into the bedroom for them to eat together.
When it snowed earlier in the year and Amina wasn’t able to go outside and enjoy it, Victoria hopped outside, grabbed a heap in her hands and took it into Amina, so they could both feel the texture in their hands.
Amina’s face lights up when she tells me about the time Victoria visited at Easter with her boyfriend and threw a birthday party for her, together with cake and songs from Zimbabwe.
When Victoria goes on holidays, she’s very much missed. “She’s leaving me again soon,” Amina jokes, as Victoria says she’s heading off on holiday with her boyfriend for a week. “I’ll bring you back goodies though, you know that!”
When I ask for a quick snap of the pair, Victoria jumps on the bed and cuddles up to Amina, who laughs. Amina rests her head on Victoria’s shoulder. I walk away with a smile on my face. If this isn’t female friendship, I don’t know what is.
Find out more about South London Cares’ ‘Love Your Neighbour’ programme here.
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