Dealing with loneliness “should be a treatment prescribed by the NHS”: combatting isolation in South Yorkshire

Written by Jack Lister

A combination of poor transport links, dealing with winter weather and an unknown COVID variant have lead to heightened feelings of loneliness in South Yorkshire.

Within the region, several social groups have been established to make elderly people feel connected to their community.

Over the course of the last two years, the term isolation has been synonymous with having to shield oneself from the community. The term is most commonly associated with members of the elderly population, however loneliness effects everyone and the best way to overcome it is through communication and meeting people.

Upcoming winter months can often be the loneliest part of the year for some.

Owner of Home Alone, Gloria Stewart, offers Christmas lunches for the isolated, lonely and vulnerable in what will be her 14th consecutive year.

On their importance, Ms Stewart said: “People that attend are often people on their own, once you’ve lost a partner, life’s never the same. At the lunches people have a family for an hour, but there’s so many more hours in the week.

“A lot of isolated people don’t get outside unless they are attending a hospital appointment or going shopping, they haven’t got a lot to look forward to.

”If you don’t see anybody [daily], the only contact is with the television. When someone phones they will naturally want to keep talking and talking.”

Ms Stewart has been a shining light for those in the Sheffield community who would normally spend Christmas Day alone. In 2007, 87 people attended which rose to 500 people who attended the Christmas lunch last year.

“Everyone in their own lives is in their own little bubble, in everyday life people don’t think about the isolated and vulnerable.

“Depression is due to the isolation which can lead to suicidal thoughts. Put yourself in their position for a month, you wouldn’t want to carry on,” she added.

Image: Gloria Stewart outside the BBC Studios, photo credit Michelle Rawlins.

The Christmas lunches occur at the Niagara Centre in Sheffield and rely on volunteers who will make sure that attendees receive regular phone calls and a present to open on Christmas morning.

Fundraising for the event occurs nine weeks before Christmas, offering a limited window of time for Ms Stewart to be able to improve the lives of hundreds of people each year.

Friendship lunches across South Yorkshire are another way of providing an opportunity for people to meet and they regularly attract attendances of over 50 participants. Aside from elderly groups, the lunches cater for dementia and family carer groups.

Freelance community consultant, Kathy Markwick, who has led friendship lunches in South Yorkshire since its inception five years ago, said: “It’s heart-warming to see. People with dementia might not remember the occasion, but it’s something for them to look forward to, to get dressed up for, and it gives them a sense of routine.”

The Great Get Together Superjam is held monthly at the Holiday Inn Barnsley, with November’s special guests being Gordon and Jean Leadbitter, parents of the late MP Jo Cox.

Regular attendee of the friendship lunch Michelle said: “Loneliness should be the sort of treatment that the NHS prescribe treatment for.”

Clip: Michelle’s testimony

The Superjam event, which often hosts up to 250 people, includes live music, entertainment and a two-course lunch. The next lunch will be on December 9 at The Ball in Crookes.

Christmas and community lunches serve as an important method of connecting the isolated and vulnerable. On a daily basis charities such as Age UK Sheffield and Letsbfriends are raising money to bridge the gap to connect the isolated in South Yorkshire.

Across Sheffield Age UK charity shops help raise money for the implementation of schemes such as People Keeping Well in the Community which include walking football and talking services that help to reduce feelings of isolation for elderly people across Sheffield.

In October, a new Age UK Charity shop opened in Broomhill after existing shops in Bradway and Abbeydale Road proved to have been a huge success for raising funds for the charity.

Kelli Diener, manager of the Age UK Broomhill shop, said: “The funds raised stay in Sheffield, donation levels are particularly high in Bradway.

“The shops also plan to run a combined fashion show event at Hillsborough in February 2022 to promote fashion trends.”

The charity shops help old people to access information on finances, local activities, non-material support services, and a source of comfort.

As a community South Yorkshire has a range of services and groups to make people feel connected:

Age UK Sheffield: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/sheffield/about-us/contact-us/ 0114 250 2850.

People Keeping Well in the Community: https://www.sheffielddirectory.org.uk/kb5/sheffield/directory/advice.page?id=XdHZvdjfM4E

For concerns related to the content of this article: https://www.samaritans.org/branches/sheffield/

Written by Jack Lister

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