“The tea parties really were the extent of my social life. Now we can’t meet but I have someone to chat to on the phone. I usually sit in front of the television from 4pm until bedtime, so the calls break up my evenings. They really do care about us.”
These are the words of one of our tea party guests Arthur, 89, a widower who lives alone in the South East. As the country went into lockdown last March, Arthur told us how being part of Re-engage was helping him cope.
It’s now been a whole year since we suspended our social gatherings. Making the decision to put them on hold was incredibly hard as we anticipated the pandemic being especially tough on the over-75s.
This is borne out by the research: ONS figures published last July revealed that those most likely to experience ‘lockdown loneliness’ included the over-70s.
We know the monthly tea parties have been sorely missed. Yet we’re delighted the bonds of friendship formed through the social groups has meant that, for the last 12 months, our guests who have wanted support have been able to receive regular phone calls from Re-engage volunteers.
To be part of a caring community at a time like this really has been a lifeline for many.
In response to the crisis, we also launched call companions so we could reach more older people feeling lonely or isolated in the lockdown. We’re over the moon that, since May, 1,893 older people have been matched to our volunteer call companions.
Many of these matches were based on their shared interests and every day we hear wonderful stories about the friendships that have blossomed.
For example, 91-year-old Anne grew up speaking French and wanted to rediscover the language again. We matched her with Eleonore, who, by amazing coincidence, is from the same area of Paris Anne’s mother was from.
Anne says, “Speaking French makes me feel young again. My husband was in a nursing home last year and I was only allowed to visit him once in seven months before he died. I don’t know what I would have done without Eleonore’s phone calls to look forward to. We’ve become great friends.”
In fact, the feedback we’ve received from all the older people who take part in call companions has been extremely encouraging:
- 94% say that Re-engage services give them something to look forward to
- 92% say that being part of Re-engage has a positive impact on their lives
- 88% say the calls make them feel happier.
This drives us to continue to diversify our work. Once it's safe to get our tea parties up and running again, we will continue to provide call companions and seek out more ways to help older people connect.
We’re currently trialling our first online groups – sociable exercise groups, funded by the Welsh Government, which are giving people there great opportunities to enjoy stretching their limbs and meeting others at the same time.
Our online groups will be complemented by in-person activity groups as soon as it’s safe to get together.
So, despite the inevitable challenges, heartache, and sorrow the year has brought, we have seen some incredibly positive things too.
Working alongside our dedicated volunteers, we enter the second year of this pandemic determined to become an even greater force to tackle loneliness and isolation in the lives of older people.
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