Tony’s phone ringing off the hook with befriending offers

By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead

One of the joys of working for Ageing Well Torbay (AWT) is meeting people with amazing stories to tell.

Sadly, they are not all happy ones to start off with, but they can have some terrific endings over time.

In a couple of our articles last week, you may well have read about Tony Satchwell, a man who was lonely for more than 12 years before he plucked up the courage to walk into the AgeUK Torbay office in Dendy Road, Paignton.

Within months of asking for help, his life turned around. He was attending luncheons and social groups organised by AgeUK Torbay and AWT and finding friends and acquaintances across the Bay

And then COVID struck, and he was back to square one – not seeing people for, sometimes, days if not weeks on end with only his television and radio to keep him company.

He received regular calls from AgeUK Torbay coordinator, Gwen Price that lifted his spirits no end, but that was about it. The streets were empty when he went out for his walks and no one was up for talking, for fear of the virus.

To meet Tony you would not believe it possible. A gentle soul, who was once an outgoing, friendly florist and partner of Vince, a former mayor of Torbay; whose life was a whirlwind of social functions, friends and love.

But that all changed when his partner of 45 years died, and his world shrank. People stopped knocking on his door and his phone stopped ringing. Slowly but surely, he lost his confidence and started to dread walking into a pub or café by himself for fear of being labelled ‘that lonely old man in the corner’.

The walls of his tidy flat in Cecil Road, Paignton closed in and his only contact with other people was at the shop where he would crave a conversation with the cashier to break up the bleakest of days.

Tony is not alone in being alone; there are an estimated 6000 people in the Bay who are at risk of becoming isolated, many of them through bereavement or their own ill health or simply because they have lost touch with friends and relatives.

Walking into that AgeUK office in Dendy Road was the best thing Tony had done in years and marked a turning point in his fortunes – a turning point for which he is eternally grateful.

In addition to a variety of social functions, he helped organise a holiday with a few of his newfound companions to Bournemouth and was hoping, before the onset of COVID, to repeat the coach trip, only this time to Blackpool to celebrate his 80th birthday last October.

In recent weeks, Tony has become something of a local media celebrity doing interviews for newspapers, radio stations and ITV WestCountry and, to a man and woman, all the interviewers have loved him and asked the same question – how can a man like him be lonely?

The answer lies with us. Do we all take enough time in our busy daily lives to think what might be going on in someone else’s – a nodding acquaintance in the street or one of our neighbours?

Tony now has lots of new friends from all over the South West peninsula and is eagerly looking forward to meeting up with some of them as the COVID restrictions are further eased.

The phone at the AgeUk office and indeed the ITV Westcountry switchboard was red hot with offers from people wanting to meet him, some of them simply touched by his story, others who recognised something of themselves in him.

It has been a busy few weeks for Tony who still can’t quite believe why he left it so long to speak out, but in doing all those interviews, he was speaking on behalf of lonely people everywhere. And he was speaking from the heart.

He is now working through a long list of people, including a friend he lost touch with 30 years ago and another who was his partner Vince’s consort when he was mayor, and he has already been out for a coffee with someone who lives in Paignton.

“It has been incredible, all of a sudden my phone is ringing constantly. I have been overwhelmed by the kindness. It has gone from one extreme to the other; I will be needing a rest soon,” he says with his familiar smile beaming.

One story that, thankfully, has a happy ending.