Connect with Cheryl

by Sophia Smith

Cheryl wants to ensure noone is alone twiddling their thumbs in East Lancashire...

In the heart of Lancashire, Cheryl Sandford stands as a beacon of community spirit and friendship. With her initiative, Connect with Cheryl, she has woven a tapestry of connections throughout the local communities of Pendle, Burnley, Blackburn, Whalley, Clitheroe, and Langho. Cheryl’s dedication is unwavering commitment, ensuring nobody’s left twiddling their thumbs alone.

From historical romps to cheese-tasting, Cheryl organises days out for groups of people across East Lancashire. The events consist of day trips out to complete treasure hunts Cheryl has crafted, exhibitions about the Pendle witches, trips covering the tales of the Brontës, and days where everyone can get together and just have a meal and play bingo.

Connect with Cheryl


“I used to deliver mentoring programmes for companies and job seekers and managed a project which promoted active travel and tackled isolation. The funding finished for this programme, and I decided to retire. But I wanted to continue helping with the community aspect because it’s so good and so beneficial for people.”

Last year, Connect with Cheryl had over three hundred participants getting involved with events. “It’s a big friendship group I am coordinating. Since I have retired, there have been no boundaries on what I can organise. Previously, they were more local events. But now they can be anywhere and further afield. I’m still mindful of everyone, ensuring it’s affordable and suitable for people who are also retired or may have disabilities,” said Cheryl. “I work harder now than I did at work! It occupies me and keeps my mind going whilst looking after my health and well-being.”

Following the footsteps of literary luminaries like the Brontë sisters, Cheryl’s troupe embarks on immersive journeys through time. But it’s not just about revisiting the past; it’s about creating experiences that stimulate the group’s mind. “I like to focus on the historical side to help people with dementia. I had a day where we followed the lives of Charlotte Brontë’s friends: Mary Taylor, Margaret Wooler and Ellen Nussey. We followed their lives around Gomersal and visited the school they attended. We also took a trip to Thornton, where Charlotte was first born.

We went to Wycollar, to explore the inspiration for Fearndean Manor from Jane Eyre. Then we experienced the magnificent Wuthering Heights as we hopped on a steam train that took us to Keighley and on to Howarth, where we visited the Brontë Parsonage Museum and St Michael and All Saints Church. You can tell it’s a pet subject of mine!”

The steam train to Keighley

From the haunting allure of the Pendle Witches to the chilling trials at Lancaster Castle, Cheryl’s expeditions transport people into the heart of Pendle’s bewitching history. But fear not – the group did not embark on the 45-mile hike like the Pendle Witches!

Despite the rain, the community group enjoyed a fascinating visit to Pendle Heritage Centre, discovering the vast history of the former farmhouse, Park Hill. They explored the stories of the Bannister and Shuttleworth families dating back to 1660, followed by a delightful lunch and an insightful talk by the head gardener in the 18th-century walled garden despite getting wet through.

In November, Cheryl organized a festive outing, “All I Want for Christmas is Cheese.” The outing included a visit to a cheese factory aboard a merry minibus, followed by a joyous gathering at The Barn in Scorton, where everyone could buy lunch and drinks and see the biggest tree Cheryl says she has seen.

Self-funding and self-motivated, as previous funding stopped, Cheryl’s determination hasn’t wavered; instead, she’s taken the reins. Cheryl keeps her loyal followers in the loop, sending quarterly flyers and harnessing the power of Facebook and WhatsApp, rallying friends old and new to join in the fun. Cheryl’s social calendar remains packed as she effortlessly integrates Connect with Cheryl into her newfound passions, inviting friends from her gardening and lunch groups.

Out and about

“I’m the chair of a local group, Langho District Ladies, and I have been since 1979. I was just a young bride; I’ve done it all my life! They would just let you carry on as chair if you were willing to. We meet in each other’s houses and organise speakers to come to us, which our subs cover. We go on local trips each year to the theatre and dinners out, too!”

In addition to her bustling social calendar, Cheryl conducts talks herself. With two engaging talks under her belt, Cheryl shares her experiences with The Repair Shop and the restoration of a cherished family heirloom, which is over 100 years old. The other talk takes her listeners on an unforgettable journey to Thailand. “My daughter Karli ended up living in Thailand; I read it like a book with a prologue, chapters, and an epilogue of her story over the years, why she went, what she did, and how I came to visit with my friend. She lives in Italy now!”

“My other daughter Dawn, who lives near me, helps to design our event flyers. They look very different from the ones I design. She’s got all the software, and she knows what she’s doing! Not only does she help with the flyers, but she will also test the treasure hunts I make. She will go around the area and complete it to see if it’s made correctly. She’s super-duper,” smiled Cheryl.

Cheryl is also involved in the Mother’s Union at her local church and a presiding member of Whalley Deanery, where she helps out with projects like safeguarding and campaigns, showing how the group can tackle things like domestic abuse.

The Connect group is now a close-knit community, providing comfort to those with hidden disabilities and also people new to the area. “Someone told me one morning they were really anxious, and they didn’t want to go on the trip we had planned. And she said she pulled herself up, and when she arrived and saw me and the group, she instantly calmed down and felt at peace.”

“We have a couple that joins our trips monthly. They are originally from South Africa, and she told me that we have shown them places they never thought would exist in Lancashire! Her husband suffered a bleed on the brain last year and is making a remarkable recovery. She said that getting well enough to join our activities again has been his main inspiration to get better.”

In April, Cheryl planned a St. George’s Day event, brimming with British tradition. From personalised bingo and beetle drives to flag-waving galore, she ensured a celebration fit for royalty. They dusted off their Union Jacks and joined in for a day of patriotic revelry they wouldn’t soon forget. Cheers to Cheryl for bringing a little slice of joy to the world, one escapade at a time!