Relocating and rediscovering purpose

Updated: 09 Jan 2024

A widow who moved home to be closer to her son says she managed to find purpose again with the help of her local Oddfellows friendship group.

Support to stay independent

Marilyn Hayward, 82, has always been an upbeat and welcoming character.

Following the death of her husband of 43 years, Bill, in 2012, she remained outgoing, and managed to keep active with her favourite hobby – tending to her large garden at her former home in Sidcup.

But after fracturing a vertebrae in her back in 2013, Marilyn’s doctor told her that gardening was off the table, and she was no longer as independent as she once was.

Marilyn and a group of friends laughing and smiling
Marilyn (pink top) with her friends at Thames and Kennet Oddfellows

Her injury meant that her son, Paul, would frequently travel 80 miles to help around the house, which she says was a lot of strain on him, especially as he has a family of his own.

Marilyn said: “One week he’d come and clear the garage, then another week the shed, then the next week the loft.

“I felt I had to move. I didn’t have much choice. I also didn’t want to rely on neighbours.”

A fresh start

That monumental decision brought her to a retirement apartment in Woodley, near Reading, where she soon set about trying to get to know a few people locally – an endeavour which was derailed by some unexpected difficulties, however.

“I found that a lot of the people had moved there from Woodley and they still had friends here. They didn’t need me,” she said.

“So, I went and tried out two different churches. I went with one of the ladies from where I live but one week she couldn’t come so I went on my own. I came home having not spoken to anyone. I was disgusted!

“I found that very hard. I had already tried another social club but all they cared about was who was going to be on the committee. Again, you could go and no one would talk to you, so I thought ‘I’m not going to waste my time’.”

Marilyn began to lose hope and admits that, for the first time in her life, she felt lonely. That was until, in late 2016, she was told that the Oddfellows’ Thames and Kennet Branch was starting up a friendship group in Woodley.

Four women smile and laugh while playing dominos
Marilyn quickly began attending all sorts of Oddfellows events

She’d heard about the Society from when she lived in Sidcup, but the timing had never been right to give it a go. Now, though, there was nothing stopping her – and she hasn’t look back.

She said: “Everyone was so friendly at that first meeting. They took the time to speak to me and ask me questions about myself.

“You feel like you belong. They don’t want you to feel like you’re the new girl on the block.”

Renewed purpose 

Not long after her first experience of the Oddfellows, Marilyn became a member. Soon she was helping out at events in Woodley and began venturing further afield to other branches’ activities, as well as attending conferences up and down the country.

“I went to everything that was going – quizzes, coffee mornings, games evenings,” she said. “I’d help out in the kitchen and they appreciated the help. I felt like I had a purpose. You get more out of it the more you put in.

“I’d go to dinners and get to meet people from other areas and they were always friendly as well. I liked being able to get dressed up. All that stopped when my husband died, but now I could go on my own and not feel out of place.”

Marilyn has gone on to hold various volunteer positions at her Thames and Kennet Branch and this year will take over as the District Chairman (Provincial Grand Master) for the Reading District.

Marilyn smiles while making a pot of tea
Marilyn is often found helping out at events

“It’s been such a short amount of time too,” she said. “I never thought I’d be doing things like that.”

She says that, as was done for her, she always tries to make people feel welcome and thanks them for coming to each event. She said: “I tell them to have a safe journey home and I’ll say ‘see you the same time next month’.

“I think that makes a real difference. People come back because they feel welcome.

“For example, we have a singing group and if people haven’t been for a few weeks I’ll ring them up. Sometimes I don’t get a call back, but one person came who hadn’t been for a while and said, ‘sorry I didn’t get back to you but I really appreciated your call’, then she slotted in like she had before.”

National recognition

That commitment to the Oddfellows’ friendly ethos hasn’t gone unnoticed. Last year she was recognised nationally by the Society; chosen as the winner in the ‘Enriching Lives Socially’ category of the ‘Making a Difference Awards’.

“I was delighted,” she said. “I feel as if I’m giving back to something that has given me so much.

Marilyn with her Making a Difference Award trophy
Marilyn proudly displays her Making a Difference Award

“I’m not sure where I’d be without the Oddfellows. It’s not just a part of my life, it is my life.”

To those considering attending an Oddfellows event, Marilyn says: “Come and find out how great it is and what it has to offer, especially if you have just moved into a new area.

“You’ve got to go to an event, no matter what’s on. What’s in the events diary doesn’t describe the atmosphere. You go to be with people, it’s not about what’s on. If you enjoy what’s on, that’s a bonus!”

Oddfellows friendship groups

We're always ready to welcome new members to our local Oddfellows friendship groups. You can find your nearest by using our Branch Finder, or use our Events Finder to search for social events and activities happening near to where you live.

Give the Oddfellows a try. There's no obligation to join. Contact us to request your free information pack and local events diary.

Read more advice on making friends and building social confidence in our friendship guides section.