Firstly I must apologise for not having written this in December but I have had my own family tragedy to cope with. So here I am on a grey, wet, cold, miserable winter’s day, feeling a bit sad and flat at the loss of a family member – what better time to write about loneliness. Yet I have no real sense of what that is. My life is full of family, friends, friendship, community, fun and laughter. I really can’t imagine what it must feel like to be alone, socially isolated and immobile.
I can’t imagine going for a day without speaking to anyone and yet more than one million older people regularly go an entire month without speaking to another soul, according to charity Age UK.
Half of all people aged 75 and over live alone and one in 10 people aged 65 or over say they always, or often, feel lonely – that’s just over a million people!
As people grow older they are more likely to lose loved ones and live alone. They are also more likely to experience health problems, which can make it harder to get out and about. Older people are particularly vulnerable to increased feelings of loneliness and isolation. This can lead to depression and a serious decline in physical health and wellbeing.
The Pensioners & Fifty Plus Action Group, based in Plymouth, soon realised that social isolation was a bigger problem for their members than their original aim in setting up the group, which was to fight for better state pensions.
So they started to organise social events and monthly open meetings with speakers and as a result their membership is rapidly growing.
Devon Community Foundation has provided £1,000 to provide much need transportation. This is cited as the key reason for this increase in membership, which has far exceeded their expectations and now stands at 60!
Many members have formed friendships and there are several clusters who sit together and look out for each other. Tom Williams, Chairman of the groups says that he has a big problem trying to stop them talking when a speaker or entertainer is performing, which is further proof that members really come to the meetings to engage with other human beings.
One member who is 99 years old tells everyone that joining the group “has changed her life”. For her birthday the group put on a surprise party including a large birthday cake and refreshments. They invited 20 pupils from a local primary school to sing Happy Birthday. The children also made her a lovely card. The Plymouth Herald sent along a photographer to the celebrations to capture this special day. The “birthday girl” was thrilled.
Tom went on to say, “As a group and individually, our members are very grateful to Devon Community Foundation for giving us the means to bring our idea to life, something that has proven very beneficial to a lot of older people. This has meant that instead of staying home alone they have been able to get out and enjoy good company, good entertainment, good food, make new friends and have something to look forward to.”
Through this simple concept of offering friendship and camaraderie this group has changed many lives and transformed the health and wellbeing of its members. And that is not an overstatement!
Researching the subject of loneliness and social isolation has been very informative for me and whilst I still can’t imagine the depth of loneliness some people experience, the heartwarming stories from The Pensioners & Fifty Plus Action Group have lifted my spirits no end. Thank you.