I think it was the autumn of 2013 but it may have been earlier; I watched the Hairy Bikers presenting a programme about trying to set up a meals on wheels service in Slaithwaite (pronounced Slawit) which is not so far from where I live. There was an old gentleman who cried when they arrived as he hadn’t seen or spoken to a soul since they had been the previous week; my heart broke.
I mulled it over. Thought about it. I knew I wanted to do something but what?
I find the thought of loneliness distressing. This article from the BBC website shows how people in 2001 were less connected to their communities (anomie) in 2001 than back in 1972. Age UK campaign to bring attention to the loneliness amongst older people:
Loneliness is key indicator of social exclusion/disengagement and is a significant problem for older people. Approximately 10% of those aged 65+ in England report severe loneliness with a further 32% moderate levels of loneliness which represents 777,690 and 2.2 million individuals respectively. Loneliness has important negative consequences for both older adults and society being associated with a range of negative health, social and service use outcomes. Rates of mortality for older people who are lonely are reported as 50% higher; emergency hospital admissions are a third higher and GP consultation rates 3 times higher compared with their non lonely peers.
But Age UK, as I do, also recognise it is a complex problem.
As a result of these musings I decided at the start of 2013 that I would become a befriender. I made a public declaration on Twitter as I know if I say things out-loud I am more likely to do it.
The story of my quest to do so is described here on the blog site of Gill, otherwise known as @whoseshoes .
I did eventually find a way of helping. A great local charity that primarily offers Childrens’ and Learning Disability Services eventually found me on Facebook.
This is my reflection of the journey since then. I have thought hard about writing this down as I did not want to breach the confidence of my friend so the blog is focussed on the reflections from inside of me.
The process of being matched to someone who may be lonely is an odd one for the use of the word ‘friend’. You are first (and rightly) checked over and then matched by the charity to someone who you might be able to help. I was complicated to match as I have little time – I’m time poor generally especially during the week – so it had to be weekends. I was almost matched with someone who needed some relief while they were caring for their partner with Dementia. But the be-friending service don’t like you to do that as its seen as more then be-befriending; that made me feel bad as I knew I could easily do that if I had more time. Eventually though I was matched with a lady who is much younger than I had anticipated.
It’s very surreal – my friend is so little like me. We have little in common. Our life patterns are so very different and even our family backgrounds but it’s amazing what eventually creeps through. The relationship is not what I expected. I suppose I expected it to be cosier really, more like the elderly people that I have cared for over the years but it’s not that, not that at all.
At first I found it quite hard. I had to draw on my natural communication skills (Yikes) but has time has passed its getting strangely easier. I try to go at least once a week and if I can’t go I try to ring. Even that is hard now I’m back to working full-time but we manage. When I arrive the kettle goes on and I am presented with my coffee in the same blue mug each week.
I know she likes me and my company – I can tell. I always ring to say I am planning on a visit and she always sounds pleased. I always do what I say I am going to do, keep my promises. We are not allowed even to take gifts but I sneaked two cheese scones down once and she said she loved them. Last week she had some photographs out to show me, her family past and present.
The thing that I have learnt is that loneliness isn’t always what you think it might be and you can be a comfort for people by just showing you care. My friend has family who visit rarely and can get to the shops but I think she is lonely despite these things.
I’m glad I made the commitment and intend to carry on for as long as I can and she wants me to.
When I retire I also plan to do more. I would absolutely love to set up a #henpower project and who knows, now I have said it out louds perhaps I will. You might want to as well if you watch this video – the Hen Men . See what a difference it can make – this project is also a great example of impact.
If you want to explore being a befriender Age UK have some information here:
Or check out Contact the Elderly here:
And look out for more information about hen-power here:
If you want some help if you are lonely please check out the Mind site here: