FEATURE: Tackling the real issue of loneliness

Projects such as the Men's Shed at Long Sutton can help combat loneliness.  (SG170917-100TW)
Projects such as the Men's Shed at Long Sutton can help combat loneliness. (SG170917-100TW)
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The true extent of a rising problem across Britain was highlighted when Prime Minister Theresa May announced she was appointing a minister for loneliness.

MP Tracey Crouch will take up the role, which she says is a ‘generational challenge.’

I hope that the minister will look at rural communities and what can be done.

Liz Walmsley, general manager at Age UK Spalding

But those in South Holland hope that the new minister will take into account rural areas, as well as those cities that have the advantage of good transport links, in dealing with the problem.

Liz Walmsley, general manager of Age UK Spalding, said: “I hope that the minister will look at rural communities and what can be done.

“It is all very well and good in a place with good transport but here it is not that easy if somebody wants to get to say, Spalding from Holbeach.

“They have to get the service bus because the Call Connect bus does not go from Holbeach to Spalding.

“A lot of older people are attracted to come here from cities because it is flat and housing is cheaper.

“But if they lose a partner and their family is miles away they become isolated.

“In rural villages and the fens a lot of people have lost their post office and corner shops where they would have met and talked to one another.”

But it is not just the elderly who are affected by loneliness.

A 2017 report said loneliness is as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

“Loneliness and isolation can cause health problems, starting with depression and anxiety”, added Liz.

“It has been proven that mixing with others and socialising gives people a sense of well-being.

“People do not talk to one another like they used to.

“With social media it’s easy to send texts or email, whereas years ago we would have visited each other or gone for Sunday dinner.”

David Fannin, Chief Executive of Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service, said: “In rural areas like South Holland and the fens it is easy to be lonely.

“But there are groups to help reduce isolation and loneliness such as the Men’s Shed programme, befriending groups and health walks.

“The Chain Bridge Forge in Spalding is very keen to have people come along and join in with activities.

“They have people who volunteer for them and go on to develop an interest in the work there.”

And he acknowledges that going along to a group for the first time can be tough.

“For some people it can be intimidating, taking them out of their comfort zone.

“If you are concerned about people, purely who would benefit from a bit of contact in the community, you can contact the volunteer service and we can advise on what is available.”

New Neighbourhood Teams, which are being rolled out across the county, will be able to give further support to people who may be affected by other issues, such as ill mental health, which is also associated with loneliness.

The teams bring together healthcare specialists such as district nurses, community matrons and integrated support workers to give care to people in their own home.

They will work alongside the voluntary sector, emergency services, district and county council.

“It all goes along with what will happen with Neighbourhood Teams,” added David.

“That’s addressing social isolation and joining together to advise what is out there for people.”

Men’s Sheds are an idea that started in Australia, to provide a place for men to come together, share ideas and projects.

Long Sutton has one, launched by district councillor Jack Tyrrell, and it’s going from strength to strength.

Jack was inspired to set it up to combat loneliness in the Suttons and Tydd St Mary, after a friend lost his wife of many years and found himself alone.

In the case of befriending groups, these might be something as simple as a coffee morning or knitting circle but will provide that much needed interaction.

At Age UK in Spalding, day care is offered five days a week in a purpose-built building with trained carers.

Liz explained that the charity does not receive any government funding or support, so they have to make a charge of £23.50 per day for care. That includes a freshly cooked midday meal, transport, entertainment, refreshments and care.

Liz added: “Sitting alone isolated and worrying is not a good place to be, but sharing your worries and having help, advice and company can lift the burden of loneliness.”

○ For more information on what is available locally to help combat loneliness, people can contact Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service on: 01205 510888 – choose option 3 to be transferred to the Spalding office) or email enquiry@lincolnshirecvs.org.uk

The appointment of a minister for loneliness comes following a project set up by the late MP Jo Cox.

Nine million people across Britain, both young and old, are said to be affected by loneliness.

The commission for loneliness worked with 13 charities, including Age UK and Action for Children to come up with ideas for change.

Studies have also suggested that social isolation is associated with a higher rate of death in older people, and is the ‘hidden killer’ of the elderly.

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