Sheffield’s £6 million bid to curb isolation

An elderly person feeling the effects of social isolation
An elderly person feeling the effects of social isolation

Ensuring no-one in Sheffield feels the effects of loneliness sounds like a bold ambition - but millions of pounds is about to spent on making the aim a reality.

A new six-year scheme backed by the Sheffield Telegraph will involve several organisations teaming up to run a series of projects across the city, which mostly involve people giving up time to use their skills or life experience by volunteering to help others.

It is estimated that there are 177,000 people aged 50 and over living in Sheffield - of those, more than 16,000 are thought to experience social isolation and loneliness.

As people live longer and the population ages, the implications for society are clear - while the health effects of feeling cut off are now beginning to be understood.

South Yorkshire Housing Association has been given £6 million by the Big Lottery Fund to run the programme, called Age Better in Sheffield. Partner organisations include the Royal Voluntary Service, Sheffield Mind, Ignite Imaginations and Sheffield Cubed.

Gareth Parkin, who is leading the scheme, said: “Securing £6 million for the project was a real coup. We’ve got big ambitions for the city and this is a real opportunity to make a difference to the lives of lots of people.”

He added: “We know that social isolation can have terrible effects on wellbeing - doubling the risk of dementia, tripling the risk of heart conditions and having the same effect on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”

People can get involved in a variety of different ways, from becoming a mentor, being an ambassador for the project or simply visiting a family member or neighbour who is at risk of becoming socially isolated.

The campaign has seven main strands. The ‘inter-generational skill swap’ will link up people of different ages, to swap knowledge and learn new things. Wellbeing practitioners are offering free counselling and therapy to people aged over 50, providing ways of boosting their confidence.

A further project is looking to recruit volunteers to support younger people, known to be at high risk of isolation for reasons such as moving home for work or study, or becoming a parent for the first time.

Setting up social groups, linking up older people to share experiences of loneliness, and preventing isolation taking root are also addressed in individual projects.

Research carried out by the association indicated that transport and access issues are known to trigger isolation in Sheffield - a problem amplified by the city’s steep hills.

So ‘access ambassadors’ will be taken on to help older people get out and about.

Nora Fry, who is aged 101 but still lives alone on the Charnock estate, said she will be seeking help from volunteers to stay active.

“I would encourage everyone to get involved,” she said.

“The ambassadors will help you to do as much or as little as you please to help you gain confidence and get out more.”

n Call 0114 2900 250, email care@syha.co.uk or visit www.agebettersheff.co.uk for more information.