Two years ago, 28 year old builder Joe O'Donnell moved to Papamoa from Yorkshire, England. He plays for the local rugby club and enjoys a BBQ with his mates.

But what many people don't know is that every Wednesday after work Joe has a date with a special lady almost 70 years older than him.

"It's not the norm really. People are very taken back by it but everything's mostly been positive," said Joe.

Elvor Shaw was born in South Africa, moving to England when she was 5, and then New Zealand later in life.

In her younger days she was a dancer, performing in the West End.


Now a spritely 96-year-old, Elvor lives alone in Tauranga. Her husband passed away 35 years ago, her two children live in another city.

"What do I love about Joe? Just about everything. He's got a lovely smile, he's always cheerful. He makes me feel very happy," Elvor said.

Joe and Elvor met six months ago after Joe volunteered with Senior Programme, an initiative run by the Salvation Army.

The organisation pairs up elderly people with younger volunteers, all in the name of friendship. Established in March 2017, there are currently 82 elderly people looking for companionship, but only 51 volunteers.

"I thought about my grandma back home and if she was in Elvor's situation, I thought I hope someone will go and visit her. So I wanted to do it," Joe said.

Elvor and Joe often head out on their dates, going to a Christmas party together and Joe even introduced her to the joys of 'Google'.

Elvor is one of thousands of elderly people living alone in the Bay of Plenty area. The region has an ageing population with an estimated increase in octogenarians of 6 percent annually.

The Salvation Army are looking for more volunteers. All it takes is an hour a week, but for someone like Elvor, it can mean the world.


"I don't know what I would do without you, if you stopped coming, I will find you," Elvor said.

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