By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communication Lead
SEVEN years ago, the Ageing Well Torbay team began work, with one of their main aims to reduce loneliness among over 50-year-olds in the Bay.
Loneliness has long been recognised as a debilitating problem that has a dreadful effect on people’s daily lives leading to illness, depression and worse.
Here in the Bay, a whole host of economic and topographical factors mean that when we started work, we had already identified thousands of people whose lives were blighted by loneliness.
In some cases, it can mean more visits to their doctors, with receptionists often being their only source of conversation in long lonely days and weeks, a situation that we were able to tackle head-on working hand in hand with agencies across the Bay.
Our aims were simple:
- To reconnect older people with friends, their communities and where they live by creating a sense of neighbourliness and engagement in a broader range of accessible and affordable activities.
- To enable more older people to feel their lives have value and purpose as life changes, contributing their time, skills and knowledge to the wider community and viewing older age as an opportunity.
- Ensure more older people have high personal, learning and service aspirations for later life facilitated by better information, advice and more integrated services, that older people design and produce with organisations.
- Ensure more local residents value older people, that ageing is celebrated and viewed more positively by all.
We knew that older people were more likely to become lonely, particularly in a place like Torbay, because they may have moved here with a partner with fond memories of holidays in mind, only to be bereaved and therefore isolated from family and friends.
Houses with magnificent views across the Bay are a source of pride when you have your own car and the ability to walk up and down hills, but a burden when you have to rely on a non-existent bus service and your mobility is limited.
With all that in mind, our community builders got to work alongside wellbeing coordinators from Age UK Torbay in the hope that we could turn the tide. And for a long time, we did just that.
People’s lives were transformed. Social lives were rebuilt and connections forged and in some cases reforged in communities across the Bay.
Doctors visits were reduced considerably as were trips to the hospital as hundreds of new friendships were made at new events and social activities started by the community for the community in halls and venues in every part of Torbay.
And then COVID hit.
A recent Age UK report noted that “ We know that from our research during the past eighteen months that older people report the pandemic has left them feeling anxious, depressed, and fearful for the future, and that these people are unlikely to recover easily from the physical and emotional impacts of the pandemic.”
Or put another way, once again, we have a mountain to climb and this time we will be doing it without the Ageing Well Torbay programme which comes to an end in March.
In many ways, the timing could not be worse, but we are hopeful that a combination of Torbay Council and the National Lottery will come up with funding that will allow our community builders to continue their groundbreaking work.
During the early days of the pandemic, a hashtag was coined to sum up the work of the voluntary and charitable sector during the crisis and the #nevermoreneeded is truer today than it ever was.
According to Age UK, before the pandemic, around one in 12 people aged fifty and over in England were often lonely, equivalent to around 1.4 million people, a number they project will increase to around two million people by 2026 and they fear the number may be higher.
And that is not all. Even without the impact of a pandemic, it has now been recognised that older people are not alone in being alone, it is a condition that devastates the lives of young people too.
Despite its far-reaching effects, loneliness remains a taboo subject among the young and therefore, much of it remains hidden, but its effects are clear to see with rising levels of depression and even suicide.
It is a problem for the whole of society and one that we will be tackling head-on as Ageing Well Torbay morphs into a more fully inclusive programme facing down loneliness regardless of age.