The recent announcement that GPs in England are being given permission to prescribe patients ‘social’ activities, such as dance classes and cookery, to tackle loneliness, speaks volumes about the increasing prevalence of this issue in our community. One in five patients visiting their GP are suffering from loneliness, with the government stating that around 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in over a month*.
Launching the first loneliness strategy, Theresa May said: “This strategy is only the beginning of delivering a long and far reaching social change in our country – but it is a vital first step in a national mission to end loneliness in our lifetimes.” She paid tribute to murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, who had campaigned to end loneliness before her death: “Jo Cox was absolutely right to highlight the critical importance of this growing social injustice. I was pleased to be able to support the Loneliness Commission set up in Jo’s name and I am determined to do everything possible to take forward its recommendations.”
For those of us who volunteer or work in the charity sector, this is not hot of the press, but something which we have been tackling for some time now. The UK – particularly rural areas – are in a loneliness epidemic, which doesn’t just affect the elderly, but young people too. According to the Campaign to End Loneliness two-fifths of older people state that TV is their main form of company**.
So, where can you go if you’re feeling isolated, or know someone who is? There are a number of local initiatives in Buckinghamshire aimed at targeting this issue. Community Impact Bucks’ (CIB) Community Services and Projects Team focuses on meeting the needs of the vulnerable and socially isolated, working in the heart of the community to develop volunteer driven solutions. Projects include Lunch Clubs, Gardening and Befriending services, Handy Helper Services and Community Transport Schemes.
CIB is just one of a number of charities across Buckinghamshire offering vital Befriending Services to the elderly and isolated: Age UK, Buckinghamshire Mind, Bucks Vision, Connection Support, Good Neighbours to name a few. We all have one thing in common – we all need more volunteers. Even if you can only spare a couple of hours a week, it could make all the difference. And it will make you feel better too! According to HelpGuide “the social contact aspect of helping and working with others can have a profound effect on your overall psychological well-being. Nothing relieves stress better than a meaningful connection to another person.”***
Diane Rutter, Acting CEO of CIB says “It seems even more pertinent to be talking about loneliness in the run up to Christmas, but this is a growing, concerning and ongoing issue. We no longer have multiple generations of the same family living under the one roof, young and old looking out for each other. We, as a community, need to step up to bridge the gap and prevent our neighbours from becoming isolated.”
Matthew, Age UK Befriender, sums it up: “Time costs me nothing, but means the world to someone else.”
To access volunteering opportunities in your area, go to https://communityimpactbucks.org.uk/volunteering/i-want-to-volunteer/