Telegraph Voices: What can be done to tackle loneliness amongst older people in Sheffield? 

What can be done to tackle loneliness among older people in Sheffield?
What can be done to tackle loneliness among older people in Sheffield?

In our latest edition of Telegraph Voices, we ask ‘What can be done to tackle loneliness amongst older people in Sheffield?’ 

James Starky, Timebuilders team leader -

James Starky, Timebuilders Team Leader

James Starky, Timebuilders Team Leader

We’ve been running Loneliness Action Groups as part of the TimeBuilders volunteering scheme. We start by asking, ‘what are the effects of loneliness and isolation right here in our neighbourhood?’ It’s a chance to dig deep into what loneliness feels like and how it may impact upon the way people connect with each other. The next question is, ‘what would the opposite be like?’ What kind of activities or projects best foster connectedness and belonging? What are the qualities that help them resonate?

The answers are sometimes simple: just a regular activity, a small number of people, with shared interests, easy conversations, fresh air, and a sense of purpose perhaps. That sounds like it could be a walking group, or a litter-pick team or any number of activities. The answers maybe simple, but discovering them together creates a sense of agency. A feeling that, ‘we know what to do and we can do it together. Let’s start something ourselves...’

We also think about the barriers to connectedness. We’ve just started a Loneliness Action Group in Gleadless Valley, which is spread across a landscape that is especially challenging for older people, with hardly any road-side benches. That means no-where to pause on the way to the shops, to catch your breath, recognise faces and gradually build up neighbourly relationships.

Next year we hope to do a little something to change this. Together with Reach South Sheffield we’re opening a communal workshop. It’ll primarily be for older guys who want to use their skills and be sociable, inspired by the ‘Men’s Shed’ idea. We’ll be making raised-beds and benches using waste timber. Could we put a bench on every street in the Valley? We can try. And in trying we’ll be getting a ‘win-win’; giving people who are most at risk of isolation and loneliness an opportunity to put their efforts into solving the same problem for others.

Hannah Thornton, Communications and Toolkit Officer Age Better in Sheffield

Hannah Thornton, Communications and Toolkit Officer Age Better in Sheffield

That sums up our ethos; the best way to do anything is to hear the voices of those most affected and support them to make a difference themselves.

Hannah Thornton, Communications and Toolkit Officer Age Better in Sheffield -

A few weekends ago I met a gentleman called George who has recently moved into a retirement village in Sheffield.

“I was withering away alone at home” he told me. “I knew I had to do something, but moving here hasn’t quite been what I thought.”

Mark Storey CEO of Sheffield Churches Council for Community Care

Mark Storey CEO of Sheffield Churches Council for Community Care

I was surprised. Talking to George was a stark reminder that even if someone finds themselves in an environment that has the ingredients to reduce loneliness, what truly matters is the quality of the connections and experiences with other people within that environment. Otherwise, people can remain lonely in a room full of people.

By the end of the event, George and I had spent 3 happy hours talking with some of the other residents. Before I left I stopped to watch George and his two new friends heading back to their flats together, chit chatting away. Even though they’d lived in the same place for over a month, this was the first time George had made a meaningful connection with other residents, and what a difference it had made.

As a society we know more than ever before about the challenges that impact older people’s experiences of loneliness - transport barriers, health issues, bereavement, confidence hurdles, and a lack of resources, to name just a few! But we also know more than ever about solutions, and that’s why Age Better in Sheffield have recently commissioned projects that specifically work to address these challenges (based on what older people themselves have told us they’d like).

And we’re not the only ones. Sheffield is full of incredible organisations and brilliant people who are working to offer a range of services for older people who are lonely: intergenerational classes at nursing homes, runners who visit older people, community events, lunch club champions, caring neighbours, phone befrienders, I could go on!

Bluebell Smith, volunteer at Kindness & Co.

Bluebell Smith, volunteer at Kindness & Co.

Once older people know about the support they can access here in Sheffield, we need to do all we can to ensure that their experiences are meaningful ones - ones like George’s on that Sunday afternoon. The exciting thing is that most of us have the opportunity to create and nurture connections with people every single day, whatever our ages, so my message would be to seize those opportunities where you can.

Most importantly, for us to make lasting, societal change in our city we need to be thinking about loneliness within everything we do moving forward - not as an afterthought. With that in mind, we’re excited to be working towards making Sheffield an Age-Friendly city. If you’d like to be involved, let us know!

Mark Storey CEO of Sheffield Churches Council for Community Care -

The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness report comments that loneliness can affect people of all ages and undoubtedly that is the case. However, some groups suffer disproportionate loneliness – older people being one of the groups. It is reported that for 3.6 million people over the age of 65 television is the main form of company and more than 1 in 3 people aged 75 and over say that feelings of loneliness are out of their control. Many older people report that they are often or always lonely. Loneliness is a disease and is as dangerous as obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Only this week Teresa May has said that loneliness is one of the greatest public health challenges of our time.

Age Better Sheffield suggest that there are around 16,000 people in Sheffield who are isolated or lonely. These are only the ones we are aware of. There will be many more who have slipped through the net and who have become lonely due to bereavement, their family moving away or being housebound due to illness.

The shocking reality isn’t that loneliness effects so many people, but that it hasn’t been recognised earlier. As a charity SCCCC has been leading the way in tackling loneliness amongst older people in Sheffield for over 50 years. We have a strong team of over 100 volunteers who dedicate over 7,000 hours a year to visiting older people for a cuppa and a chat. Many of these people don’t see or speak to anyone for days on end and experience loneliness that is beyond compare.

However, whilst we do all that we can at SCCCC, relying on charities isn’t the answer. We all need to make social change. It is everyone’s responsibility to tackle loneliness in Sheffield. Every business, every public sector organisation, and every individual has a part to play in addressing this social epidemic.

Some of the very basic things anybody can do include knowing your neighbour. Is there an older person in your own neighbourhood who needs a friend? Could you spend an hour a week chatting to someone on your street? Look up from your mobile, make eye contact, take the time to chat to an older person in the street. Volunteer with a luncheon club, add another chair to your table for Sunday lunch and invite an older person on your street. Or you can always sign up as a Good Neighbours Volunteer Friendly Visitor with SCCCC. As Teresa May says “We all must make it our mission to end loneliness.”

Bluebell Smith, volunteer at Kindness & Co. – 

I’m part of a group of volunteers who are tackling loneliness in Sheffield by hosting a free community Christmas dinner, on Christmas day, for anyone who would otherwise be spending the day alone. We feel passionately that no one should be lonely at any time of year, but we know that the feeling can be amplified over Christmas; a time a time that most spend with family and friends.

This year will be our sixth dinner, and we’ll have around 100 guests that we’ll be sharing the day with. The age of our guests ranges from 3 to 90 years old, and year on year we have more people booking a place. Lots of our guests tell us that coming to the dinner is the only time they really get to talk to people and something they look forward to all year round, so we also arrange meals at other times, like Easter, to bring everyone together again.

We have a fantastic team of volunteers and local community members who help with everything from fundraising to donating gifts, to peeling sprouts and washing the pots! One of our volunteers said “Sheffield isn’t the kind of city that sits back and lets things like this affect our communities; we’re determined to make a change, to spread neighbourliness, and make people feel like they’re part of a family.”

Whilst dinner for 100 might be a bit much to take on, there are a few things we can all do to reduce loneliness over Christmas:

Follow our group, Kindness & Co. on social media for more info on how you can get involved, donate, or attend our Christmas dinner.

Check in on your neighbours – take them a Christmas card, see if they need any Christmas shopping doing, invite them round for a mince pie, and if they’re going to be alone, invite them for Christmas dinner with you.

Remember – loneliness isn’t limited to older people. If your neighbours are young they might still be feeling lonely and really appreciate some company over the festive period.

Volunteer! There are lots of charities and groups that work all year round to reduce loneliness and isolation in Sheffield. You can find out more about volunteering opportunities by visiting the Sheffield Volunteer Centre website www.sheffieldvolunteercentre.org.uk or calling them on 0114 253 6649 to arrange a chat.

Set up your own community Christmas get-together, and advertise it on www.communitychristmas.org.uk