The local Churches Together in our city ran a Christmas Day lunch for 150 people who otherwise would be alone on that day. It’s held in the dining hall of a public school, which John Wesley founded for the sons of his travelling preachers. (Surprised by this initiative no doubt he would have probably appreciated it, though he might have qualms about the lavishness of the meal and the entertainment that followed). The whole enterprise is funded by gifts and local charities and organised by a team of volunteers.
Recent research suggests that there are more than 850,000 people in the U.K. who are seriously lonely, not just at Christmas but all the time. One in three people over 60 do not talk to a friend or family member once a week, whilst one in ten can pass a whole month without such a conversation. The World Health Organisation astonishingly rates loneliness as a higher health risk than smoking. On our local bus route I see the same elderly people going into town day after day, surely not always to shop, but possibly just to get out of the house and be amongst people.
A good justification for free bus passes, and one of the advantages of being older!
There’s a pioneer experiment in some London boroughs whereby if you are lonely you sign up to a phone group on a topic that interests you and then together with six or so others with the same interests, you have up to an hour’s conversation. The hope is that for people near to each other, they might team up afterwards.
Southwark Circle is one of the London ventures, and whilst not intended only for older people, obviously has particular relevance for them. You pay to belong (that could limit some people), from £30 to £75 a quarter depending on the amount of help you require. Their website summarises the purpose of the scheme.’Southwark Circle is a membership organisation whose members stay sorted, connected and lead the lives they want to lead.
It does this by introducing members to each other and local, reliable Neighbourhood Workers. It was ‘co-designed with people over 50 years old as well as their families and frontline workers’
Interesting developments which involve the people concerned, rather than handing down statutory help or patronising them. At their best this is what churches have always done ‘She doesn’t come to church anymore, but we keep in touch by regular visiting’. To end your days in ill health is a fear we all have. To be alone in a house full of mixed memories may be worse.