Volunteer and charity service user find loneliness busting friendship in each other 

Two Margarets left lonely and isolated by the deaths of their husbands have joined forces in a charity partnership which has changed both their lives.

Here, volunteer Marg Neale and service user Margaret Ogle discuss their friendship, their bereavement bond and the impact their unlikely union has had on defeating their loneliness.

Margaret Ogle, aged 87, was referred to Sheffield Churches Council for Community Care (SCCCC) after living alone left her feeling depressed.

Now she enjoys regular visits and phone calls from volunteer and fellow hiking enthusiast Marg Neale, aged 80, thanks to the charity’s popular Good Neighbour Scheme.

Margaret Ogle, said: “I was referred to SCCCC as a service user when my husband died four years ago. I live alone and, although I have two lovely neighbours who I see regularly, I was feeling very lonely and very depressed.

“After registering, they sent a volunteer called Marg to visit me once a week. Marg and I have a lot in common- especially our walking adventures across the UK. We have both walked lots of the major mountains too. I went to Finland once. My daughter, who now lives in America, took me out one day in the car and drove into the middle of the Baltic Sea – which was completely frozen!

“Our relationship has developed over time. We have some other friends in common as she lives round the corner. I love her honesty and we can talk to each other about anything. We often talk about our late husbands, as Marg lost her husband at about the same time.

“Unless you have been completely lonely like I was, you won’t understand what an enormous difference she has made. Marg has given me the company that I needed.”

Recent research has found that some people over 65 are likely to remain at risk of chronic loneliness, despite the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

Loneliness can be caused by various individual circumstances, including bereavement, low income and mental or physical health problems.

A national study found that nearly one in three who have experienced partner bereavement report being very lonely. Loneliness caused by grief is likely to soar, with the latest figures from Independent Age suggesting that up to 307,000 people over 65 have lost a partner during the last year.

Mum of four, Marg Neale has been volunteering for SCCCC for three years, after losing her husband, Ted, six years ago. “We had been married almost 60 years,” said Marg.

“I was very depressed, and I said to my daughter, Becky, I’ve got to do something to keep myself busy. She told me about the charity’s Good Neighbours Scheme, and I signed up from there. It’s been great.

I’ve visited more than one older person, with Margaret the most recent. We clicked straight away. In the past, we both lived the same area and soon discovered we had friends in common. She talks about her church and tells me a lot about her church group, her friends and her daughter.

“I live alone and I hate it, and Marg gets lonely too. During the pandemic we substituted our face-to-face visits with telephone calls. Thankfully we have been allowed to start socially distanced face-to-face visits again –- and we have both had our vaccinations so we feel ok about it.”

“Marg is a wonderful lady. She is so kind and gentle. When I leave, she’ll follow me out and give me nice packet of biscuits or chocolates. She appreciates me going and I think it’s her way of saying thank you. It’s a lovely friendship. She has helped me with my loneliness as much as I have helped her. We’ve been there for each other.”

SCCCC’s Good Neighbour Scheme aims to enhance the quality of life of people over 65 through volunteers who offer the kind of support a ‘good neighbour’ might give. The service is provided free of charge with the basic aim of helping to combat loneliness for over 65s in Sheffield.

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