Tackling loneliness in Lewisham

by Mark Drinkwater

 

Loneliness affects many different groups of people, but it's more prevalent among older people. An Age UK survey this year found that more than one million people aged 65 plus in the UK describe themselves as always, or often feeling lonely - an increase on last year:

  • 41 per cent said that their TV or pet is now their main form of company
  • 30 per cent of older people said they would like to go out more often

Loneliness is clearly a growing problem - and one that's set to increase as the number of single, older people rises.

Loneliness is a crucial consideration for health and wellbeing boards because it’s associated with poorer wellbeing. It has been raised as an overarching concern this year, by Lewisham’s Health and Wellbeing Board and at a consultation event held by Voluntary Action Lewisham (VAL).

National charity campaigns and initiatives

National charities have numerous resources on tackling loneliness. This autumn the national charity, Independent Age, launched a ten-point guide to tackling loneliness, most of which overlaps with the New Economics Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing

In recent years various charities and social enterprises have developed innovative responses to loneliness, including the Men’s Sheds projects – a concept from Australia that keeps older, isolated men active by engaging them in shared tasks in giant sheds. One such scheme is run by Age UK Bromley and Greenwich. Other innovations include the Good Gym scheme, where volunteer runners are sent on jogging missions to visit lonely individuals - which runs (no pun intended) in various boroughs, including Camden and Hackney.

Tackling loneliness and connecting people in Lewisham

Numerous organisations provide support to lonely people in Lewisham, particularly older people’s charities. For instance, Age Exchange, Age UK Lewisham and Southwark, and the Lewisham Pensioners Forum all provide services that ensure that older people are encouraged to connect with others. Following our recent call for information, it is evident that faith-based organisations also provide an invaluable service in connecting people. Notably, St Swithun’s and St Mary’s churches have contacted VAL about their substantial contributions in connecting people in efforts to reduce loneliness.

In recent years, more innovative approaches to keeping people connected have emerged in Lewisham. Wider than just connecting older people, some of these are open to people of all ages. For example, the timebanks – schemes where individuals deposit time by helping others, and then receive help from others in return. Local communities have also got together for street parties, supported by the Big Lunch initiative.

Other ground-breaking services have emerged such as Entelechy Arts who have developed creative activities such as their Meet Me at the Albany programme and 21st Century Tea Dance. Elsewhere in the borough, Eco Communities has been using technology as a way of decreasing isolation by using internet communication software to keep older people in touch with their families.

 

Loneliness is an ongoing consideration for Lewisham’s Health and Wellbeing Board. If you have any comments on how organisations can work closer together to tackle loneliness, please contact Mark Drinkwater on mark@valewisham.org.uk