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I’ll be there for you: Old pals reveal the secret to 50 years of friendship

© Andrew CawleyThe gang meet up in Pollok Drive, Bishopbriggs, where they first met.
The gang meet up in Pollok Drive, Bishopbriggs, where they first met.

Maintaining friendships during the pandemic is crucial to protecting mental health, according to psychologists.

Experts say friends help us stay happier, healthier and even age better while, according to research, being lonely can be almost as damaging to your health as smoking.

Clinical psychologist Dr David Weeks said: “Having a support network of confidantes is the first line of defence for mental illness. Research shows that good friends are necessary to help prevent a person from feeling under stress.

“If you have supportive friends they can weigh in with solutions and support even if it’s just with a phone call. Never put off calling friends, even if you only have time for a short chat.”

The Edinburgh-based psychologist’s appreciation of the power of friendship is echoed by Dr Dwight Tse, of the department of psychology at Strathclyde University, who urges people to stay in touch with friends by whatever means possible during the pandemic.

“The value of long-term friends is immense because if they support us and we in turn support them during stressful life events, all our lives are enhanced,” he said. “Good friendship helps us cope with stress and makes those times more bearable and survivable.”

Online video chats and phone calls are no match for face-to-face meetings in the long term, according to Tse.

“While it is important to keep in touch with friends with phone calls and online chats during a pandemic, it is clear that we miss a lot of the social cues we would get from face-to-face meetings and social gatherings. By that, I mean how people really respond to us and what we say,” he said.

“In the ideal situation, without infection concerns, virtual interaction as a complementary form of communication instead of face-to-face interaction brings good social benefits – that is, feeling connected rather than lonely. That goes for all ages.

“These are the findings of my recent research on younger and older adults’ daily lives in early 2020 when the pandemic started. Other research has shown the benefit of virtual interaction during the pandemic when face-to-face meetings were either prohibited by law or too risky for everyone.

“At this moment though, virtual meetings do not replace face-to-face catch-ups.”

More evidence of the value of good friends is given by Glasgow psychotherapist Dr Aniko Szilagyi, who points to research in a small Italian village which looked at people who lived to age 100.

“Friendship was identified as one of the drivers for a healthy and happy old age, if we make it that far,” she said.

“While serious illness can strike any of us earlier in our lives, what is apparent is that those who live long lives are more likely to have good friends. Research also shows that loneliness can be almost as damaging as smoking to our health. Striking up good relationships adds meaning to our lives.

“Even superficial relationships, like a friendly ‘hello’ to the postman or delivery person is good for us.

“Friendships also help us keep our cognitive function and while that is not a guarantee, it does make it more likely.”


Once neighbours, they have been friends for 50 years and the pals of Pollok Drive are in no doubt about the benefits of their lifelong support network.

The women lived in the same street in Bishopbriggs, near Glasgow in the 1970s and, while their gang of nine has become six after the loss of Christine, June and Alice, they still meet through thick and thin (restrictions permitting) and here tell Janet Boyle why sharing their lives with such great pals has meant so much.


 

Billie McFadzen

Former nursery head, 85

The variety in our group kept the interest going. We all have something interesting to say and made for some great discussions.

It is very important to have friends and we must value them through the years. I always thought we were a bit of a commune, as well as a street. New ones have come into the group as they came to live in Pollok Drive but we all have the common aim of doing the best we can for others.

© Andrew Cawley
Billie McFadzen from approx 1960

Now that we are growing old together, those still with us, friendship is more precious than ever.

Good friends just don’t happen because, like marriage, you have to work at it.
Friendship is like any relationship because it takes time and effort to appreciate everyone in life. Value each other.

I appreciate having ones I can turn to and help any time. While I moved round the corner, I am only a short walk from the others.


Anne Forrest 

Former jeweller, 78

My lovely friends have enhanced my life beyond words. I don’t think it would have been as complete without them.

We all did different things with our lives and all brought something different to the group. When I moved into Pollok Drive I was pregnant with our first daughter. It was a tiring pregnancy and I slept many afternoons. Kathleen would come over to check I was OK. Margaret moved into the street the night I was rushed into Stobhill maternity unit to give birth.

© Andrew Cawley
Anne Forrest in 1984

What has made it work is supporting each other and making the very best of life. We were never gossips which probably helped. If someone needs something, there’s always one of us here to help out.

As time rolls on, as it does for us all, take time to value and keep friends and, if someone can find ones like mine, they will be very lucky indeed.


Margaret McKerracher

Former office worker, 86

We get together when we can and call each other when Covid rules tell us to distance but the joy from all those years’ friendship is priceless.

I live around the corner now and all but two of us have moved house but we are all just a few minutes away. We are not in and out of each other’s houses but have plenty of catch-ups on the phone. A pandemic is not likely to keep us from chatting and keeping good friendships going.

© Andrew Cawley
Margaret McKerracher in 1954 on her wedding day

The secret of staying friends is pulling together and being there, through good times and others. We can tell each other anything.

Sadly, we are now down to six. We have another family besides our own and that’s a boost as you get older. Well, any time in life – young or old. Make time for friends and be there for others.


Isobel Cullen

Former shop manager, 93

It all started with a coffee morning all those years ago when the children were much younger, as indeed were we.

We all have so much in common, the early years of married life in the same street and the ups and downs of life over the years.

© Andrew Cawley
Isobel Cullen in 1956

We are all just a phone call away or, in safer times, able to call by for a chat
and a coffee. We go out for lovely meals together in safer times and laugh and talk for hours. Life would be much poorer without good friends.

It has not been difficult keeping up with each other down the years. The secret of keeping good friends is to listen and be there to share your good news, and
get support during life’s difficult times.

I could not ask for better friends and those of us who have passed on are missed dearly.


Grace Donald 

Former play group leader, 79

I would like to think that we could pick up the phone any time and I was happy to be on-call in the nicest way, with advice and support.

Evidence says that good friends help us through life and we are living proof that is true.

Our children grew up together and still keep in touch with each other. In truth, we have so much in common and respect each other’s views.

Friends can be an extension of your family and should be nurtured. There’s nothing we can’t discuss and there have been some lively conversations over the years.

We all have so much to learn from each other because we all had something different and valuable to contribute.

Our meet-ups and phone calls are a great boost and if one of us is feeling lonely in the pandemic they can always call.


Kathleen Robertson

Former midwife, 82

I would like to think that we could pick up the phone any time and I was happy to be on-call in the nicest way, with advice and support.

Evidence says that good friends help us through life and we are living proof that is true.

Our children grew up together and still keep in touch with each other. In truth, we have so much in common and respect each other’s views.

© Andrew Cawley
Kathleen Robertson

Friends can be an extension of your family and should be nurtured. There’s nothing we can’t discuss and there have been some lively conversations over the years.

We all have so much to learn from each other because we all had something different and valuable to contribute.

Our meet-ups and phone calls are a great boost and if one of us is feeling lonely in the pandemic they can always call.