How many friends, family, and neighbours have you had contact with today? Living close to friends and family in a friendly community, I have spoken to three today so far. It has been reported that 17% of older people have less than weekly, and 11% less than monthly, contact with family, friends and neighbours.
6% of older people (nearly 600,000 people) leave their house once a week or less. A recent study found that isolation was linked with a 26% higher death risk over seven years. Despite meeting and speaking to isolated older people every day at work, I still find it shocking to think of so many older people in this country living in isolation.
This video by vInspired is great at showing how some of the isolated older people in the UK are feeling, and how valuable a supportive community is:
In a speech today, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that it is a source of “national shame” that as many as 800,000 people in England are “chronically lonely”. I couldn’t agree more. Having worked for a small national charity supporting isolated older people for over 3 ½ years, I have met thousands of isolated older people across the country. The effects of loneliness and isolation on health are now widely recognised, so the question now is, what can we do about this?
I find it incredibly sad that the older people I have met do not have a social and support network that my parents have (mainly due to being part of a large extended family). I grew up in a community with a mix of ages of people. Having older people around was normal and I respected them. I expect that this is one of the reasons I ended up working for a charity in this area. Now people tend to keep to themselves, and not get to know their neighbours, and so there is limited interaction between people in their communities. As a member of Rotaract, an organisation for young community-minded people, I have seen firsthand the difference being part of a community makes to peoples lives.
Intergenerational relationships can be beneficial for people from all generations. Companionship between young adults and older people can help strengthen a community. Some older people have lived in their community all their lives and are such an important part of what makes it special. For economic reasons, a lot of young people neither live where they grew up nor live where they work, which means that it can be harder to get involved in a community.
These are the reasons why I have decided to set up an organisation that helps young adults and older people meet and form friendships. A Friend Indeed will match people together based on people’s interests, location, and availability. Bringing people together with others from their local community, A Friend Indeed will help positive long-term intergenerational relationships be formed.
I feel excited and a little scared about starting my own organisation. Still in the planning stages, I am looking to meet with a wide range of people in the coming weeks to discuss this project. I have been reading a number of inspiring blog posts giving start up tips, including this by Ali Golds. Today I feel like I have taken a massive step forward towards my new life – I have been accepted on to the Public Service Launchpad scholarship! This amazing opportunity will give me the chance to meet and collaborate with others looking to find solutions to social problems. I can’t wait to get started!