A way of getting involved in the community is to join Les Blouses Roses, an association which visits children and elderly people in hospitals and retirement homes.
The association was created just over 70 years ago and is in 250 towns in France and has more than 4,000 members. In the past 10 years it has doubled the number of volunteers but wants to attract more – English-speakers, too – as it says there are a lot of people who are ill, elderly and lonely and who appreciate comfort and a smile.
In 1944, founder Marguerite Perrin wanted to fight the boredom felt by people staying in sanatoriums. Her philosophy to use action to improve residents’ morale continues today and Les Blouses Roses have set up regular workshops and activities in the hospitals and residential homes they visit.
Briton Rosemary Bugnet has been a volunteer for four years and is now secretary of the Pertuis committee in Vaucluse.
Her group has about 10 members and they visit the long-stay care unit in the local hospital every Thursday and every other Saturday: “We stay for between two and three hours and patients gather in the lounge where we chat, play games or often make objects and there is a bit of sewing for those who still have nimble fingers.
“All of our members wear their personalised blouses roses so we are instantly recognisable. Sometimes we organise outings, for example to the cinema or a local event like a flower show.”
Mrs Bugnet says residents look forward to seeing them: “As it is regular they know when we are coming and it brings life into their daily routines. We’re at all medical but come with a friendly face.”
Mrs Bugnet joined after seeing the Blouses Roses stand at the Pertuis Association Open Day: “I thought this would be a good way of going out and doing something I could enjoy and have contact with others. “It benefits the residents but I also find it rewarding.
“My working life is busy and stressful and I don’t have much time to sit and chat and take the time to make things so it does me good too.”
She is fluent in French but says as long as you have some skills in the language you would have no problem joining in.
Jérôme Piérard from the Paris head office says they would welcome English-speakers. Anyone interested can find out the activities in their area through their website. New members are given basic training to start and can either work with senior citizens or with children.
The first Saturday in October sees Les Blouses Roses organise an awareness day in partnership with Carrefour stores with local groups taking part.