By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead
This week has marked an important step in coming out of lockdown. We are getting there, but we are not there yet.
Reopening non-essential retail on the High Street sees a welcome return of shoppers to our town centres, and the return of restaurants and pubs serving outdoors adds limited socialising to the mix
There are grounds for optimism that we will achieve a relaxation of the majority of restrictions on June 21st, but we must remain cautious every step of the way to ensure there no setbacks.
Two metre distancing and wearing face masks inside is a reasonable price to pay, if it means that we will all be able to return to some sort of normality in just ten weeks time.
Friends and families are well on the road to being reunited, even if a hug at this stage is probably an unwise move, but at least we can see each other and bask in each other’s company.
And now is not the time to stop checking in with our neighbours. There are still lots of people who are reluctant to embrace the new freedoms, and they need our help now as much as they did at the beginning of the first lockdown.
A series of surveys and studies out this week show clearly the impact of the pandemic on the levels of loneliness and isolation experienced by large numbers of people – young and old alike, and that has a seriously detrimental effect on people’s mental health.
An Office of National Statistics survey not surprisingly showed that levels of loneliness in adults have inevitably risen over the last year with numbers of people who said they felt lonely ‘often or always’ rising from 5.0% to 7.2%
The same report said that the odds of people who said that they had no one to talk to reporting lockdown loneliness (those who lives alone), were almost ten times greater that those who did have someone to talk.
In the Bay, where around 50% of the population are over the age of 50, there are many people who live alone and need our help to ensure they do not become isolated – pandemic or no pandemic.
In ‘normal’ times projects run by the Torbay Community Development Trust aim to tackle isolation at both ends of the age spectrum, with Ageing Well targeting older residents and Imagine This…focussing on the younger.
The Ageing Well programme, which is now entering its seventh year (it should have been six, but because of the pandemic it has been extended), has clear statistical proof that we have reduced levels of loneliness in the older people that we have worked with.
As we come out of the worst of this pandemic, we will again be concentrating on tackling loneliness in our communities. One positive to come out of the last twelve months is a growing awareness of the issues facing people of all ages around the subject of loneliness and isolation.
The Torbay Community Helpline has identified hundreds of potentially lonely people who were previously not known to us but are now firmly in our sights. Many have already taken advantage of our telephone befriending service.
Others have been helped by neighbours who check in regularly to make sure all is OK, lend an ear and provide a friendly voice in an otherwise silent, friendless and lonely world.
Across the Bay, our communities have pulled together, and acts of kindness have been numerous. As many of us return to a new version of our daily lives, we must ensure we do not forget those who do not want to go back to seeing no one, and not having the opportunity to speak to others for days on end.
Loneliness is destructive and can be blamed for health problems, not least mental health, including stress, anxiety and depression, more visits to the doctors, and an overall decline in well-being.
As Norman McNamara, founder of the Purple Angel campaign in Torbay noted in a recent article: “If I had my way I would class loneliness as an illness and prescribe friendship on every medical note.”
He is absolutely right. Loneliness should not be an issue in anyone’s life, and neither should it be in the future as most of us return to our busy lives. Checking in with people doesn’t take long; a friendly greeting costs nothing and it can make all the difference.
Together we have come through this crisis, and together we can help prevent a loneliness epidemic.