If the pandemic and lockdowns taught us anything at all, it has to be the importance of human connection. As we were shut away from family, friends, and support networks, our chances to interact with other people was curtailed to the extent that many of us were left feeling lost and alone. Sadly, even as lockdown restrictions begin to lift, some people in our communities will continue to feel lonely, either because they are still too scared to re-join ‘normal society’, or because their networks have dwindled to nothing, and they have no idea how to pick up the threads of their lives again.
July is #TalkToUsMonth and here at SCCCC we encourage you to do just that. Do you have neighbours, elderly or otherwise, who live alone? Could you spare a few minutes each week to have a chat with them, perhaps share a cuppa and a slice of cake? To you that may mean nothing at all, at best just a bit of time out of your week, at worst perhaps a minor inconvenience. To the person on the receiving end of your time, it could help them lose the feeling of being lost, alone, and abandoned. You could be their connection to an outside world that feels scary, intimidating and not somewhere they want to be.
You may not think that loneliness in older adults is a problem in a city like Sheffield which is often dubbed ‘the biggest village in the world’; and yet according to research in 2018, between 6% and 13% of older people say they are often or always lonely. This equates to between roughly 5,520 and 11,960 older people in Sheffield living with loneliness. The odds are then that you WILL know (or know of) someone over the age of 65 who lives alone who may appreciate a visit, or even a phone call.
SCCCC has been operating our Good Neighbours scheme for more than 50 years and we now have in excess of 175 volunteers. A recent campaign with The Sheffield Star and BBC Radio Sheffield swelled those numbers but we are always looking for more people to sign up. In previous blogs we’ve mentioned the ‘feel good factor’ one gets from volunteering, and the positive impact on both the volunteer and the person (or project) on the receiving end. Helping to alleviate loneliness is arguably one of the most important things any of us can do, and with the current mental health crisis across all ages and sectors in society, taking some time to help older adults in need of company and compassion may even have a ‘trickle down’ effect. If younger adults help older isolated adults, everyone will benefit.
A common theme amongst many people is the volunteering is too time consuming - think again! Yes, volunteering under our Good Neighbours scheme is a commitment, because we want to match you with someone so you can form a long term relationship - a friendship, but it is not going to tie you to multiple hours per week. All we ask is that you are able to set aside an hour every other week to chat to the person we match you with, currently this will need to be via phone - our Telephone Support Service - but hopefully we will be able to have face to face meetings again soon!
Not everyone feels comfortable speaking on the phone, but for many of our service users, receiving a regular call from a volunteer assigned specifically to them, has been the life line that has helped them get through the various lockdowns. We try to match volunteers to service users to include common interests - gardening or DIY for example - and we’ve seen friendships develop that transcend age, gender, and location. Our Inclusive Community Care coordinator, Rehneesa, can even help locate a volunteer with language skills to match with non-native English speakers.
If you want to read about the story of one of our volunteers, Tom, visit the this page on the website and see how he has embraced life as one of our volunteers.
Another service we implemented during the first lockdown in 2020 was a pen-pal scheme. In these days of increasing online usage, most of us enjoy getting something ‘real’ through the post - well as long as it’s not a bill! We hit upon the idea of asking people to send us a handwritten letter, postcard, or even a drawing (as some of our older service users are visually impaired) which we then sent onto our users. This has developed with regular letters between users and volunteers continuing even as lockdowns begin to lift. Letter writing may be a skill that is dying out, but it is a great way to keep in touch with people and can be done at a time to suit the volunteer!
Children have formed a big part of the pen-pal scheme and our users have loved receiving their drawings and paintings. Take a look at our summer newsletter which tells the story of 90 year old Muriel, who is partially sighted, and 7 year old Matilda. The pair now regularly exchange letters and are hoping to meet in person at some point.
As we move rapidly through the month of July, please remember #TalkToUsMonth - you never know, the chat you have with someone on the bus, online, on the phone, or face to face, may be the only time the other person speaks to someone else that day, week, or month. Your voice, or words on a page, could help someone deal with their loneliness…now isn’t that a great, yet very simple mission to take on?