Matinee Mingle launched at Sunderland Empire to give lonely older people the chance to meet new friends over theatre shows

Older people in the city are being given the opportunity to make new friends, see a show and alleviate loneliness with a new initiative.

Sunderland Empire has teamed up with Age UK Sunderland to launch Matinee Mingle, which is aimed at alleviating social isolation and loneliness that many older people in the community experience and is aimed at people aged 50 and over who are unsure about going to see a show alone.

Taking place 45 minutes prior and during the interval of selected upcoming midweek matinee performances, it is held in an area set aside in one of the bars at the theatre, with a personal welcome from both an Age UK Sunderland and Sunderland Empire representative.

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Attendees are then introduced to other like-minded theatre-goers, who are given the opportunity to socialise and form companionships.

Allan Watson, Tom Hanratty and Wanda Sidaway at the first Matinee Mingle at Sunderland Empire
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The first session took place ahead of a performance of Aladdin, where Age UK Sunderland invited some of its service users to take part.

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Marie Nixon, theatre director at the Sunderland Empire, said: “We care deeply about the local community so we’re delighted to launch this initiative which we hope will give those people who are nervous about attending alone the confidence to join us, rest assured that when they arrive, they’ll be able to enjoy the experience with other theatre fans.”

Tracy Collins, director at Age UK Sunderland, said: “Matinee Mingle went a long way to alleviate the loneliness and social isolation that many older people feel, especially at this time of year.

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Matinee Mingle is taking place ahead of selected performances at Sunderland Empire.

"Age UK Sunderland are grateful to the staff at Sunderland Empire who made everybody feel welcome as they enjoyed an afternoon at the pantomime in the company of new friends.

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"It is hoped this will be the start of something new for older people and that they now feel more confident and able to join in further community activities in the new year.”

Tom Hanratty, 79, attendee of the first Matinee Mingle, said: “I lost my wife three months ago and I just want to try and do something on my own.

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"Not being good with phones, I’ve not been able to link up with anybody.

"When I heard about this, I thought champion! Meet people, talk to them, why not? I do fancy coming to see different productions, whoever invented this idea is on to a winner.

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"People like me, especially on their own, just want to meet people and talk to them. My family have been great and I know they’re always there, but it’s nice to meet other people too, so I’m over the moon about this.”

Fellow attendee Allan Watson, 76, said: “I was inquisitive [about Matinee Mingle]. I was just fascinated by what this could lead to.

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"I’m just looking forward to the whole experience. I’m not a regular theatre-goer, but depending on what happens today I might start coming with my brother-in-law who comes [to the theatre] all the time.”

Sunderland Empire is also appealing to local businesses to sponsor future events and help subsidise the cost of tickets and refreshments.

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For more information on dates of upcoming Matinee Mingles, ticket prices, how to book and sponsorship opportunities email the Sunderland Empire at [email protected]