Social isolation amongst older people had always concerned Swedish businessman Robert Gyll, but he’d never been able to find anything which he thought provided a practical solution to the problem in his native Sweden.
”I believe that we as a society has a responsibility to make sure that elderly can have an active, vital and good life. This is the least we can do for them since the standard our generations have today is built on their labour. At that time, the newspapers were filled with stories that raised a concern that it wasn’t succeeding very well with this task.
"If society can’t provide a solution, then I believe individuals should rise to the challenge. When I started to look into the matter, I realised that social isolation was a problem that neither health care nor elderly care could solve. So I choose to focus my energy finding a solution on this.”
In 2008, he resolved to change this. Robert knew that before he could start fixing the problem, he needed to understand it. So he commissioned research into the issue, with a particular focus on practical solutions.
The research, led by Therese Björkstrander, concluded that socially isolated older people needed regular social events, where they could make connections with people in similar situations to themselves.
“That’s what we found going through the latest international research at that time (2008) on the effectiveness of different interventions targeting social isolation and loneliness. This also led us to search internationally for methods containing these important components. Not the least of which regularity was an important ingredient.”
Robert and Therese now had a simple, practical solution which went right to the heart of the problem. They thought the next logical step would be to find out if there was an organisation offering a similar service elsewhere. A quick google search later, and they’d discovered Contact the Elderly (now Re-engage).
We have been working with socially isolated older people in the UK since the early 1960s. The charity provided exactly what Robert and Therese’s research had shown was needed: regular social events where isolated older people could meet people in a similar situation, make new friends and reconnect with their communities.
Therese and Robert thought they’d found exactly what they were looking for. So in 2008 Therese flew over to London to visit Contact the Elderly and find out more about the charity, its service and how it operated.
Gemma MacNulty, Contact the Elderly’s office manager, remembers the visit well:
“They wanted to know all about our tea parties and the ways in which we worked with volunteers and with older guests. They knew that the tea party model wouldn’t work in Sweden, but they went back determined to set up groups for older people to drink coffee together and talk”.
Thus Aldrekontakt was born. Ten years on from their first visit, Aldrekontakt operates 57 groups across south and mid Sweden, working with a national network of volunteers to provide social connections for hundreds of isolated older people.
Aldrekontakt returned to London to visit Contact the Elderly (now Re-engage) a decade after their first visit in May 2018. After a successful first ten years, Aldrekontakt wanted to touch base with the charity again, and get a glimpse into what they hope will be Aldrekontakt’s future: a national charity providing a vital social connect for thousands of isolated older people.
“It is wonderful to have the opportunity of exchanging experiences with such an established organisation like Contact The Elderly.”
Contact the Elderly’s (now Re-engage) CEO Meryl Davies said:
“It was fascinating to meet with Aldrekontakt at this exciting stage of their development. They’re an organisation which is clearly going from strength to strength. We’re immensely proud that Aldrekontakt’s founders chose to replicate our model in Sweden: this shows just how effective our model is, and how the issue we work on transcends borders.”
Meryl Davies continued:
“Social isolation amongst older people is a truly international problem, and there’s a great deal to be learnt from approaches elsewhere. We’re delighted to be sharing our experiences with Aldrekontakt, and hope this is just the start of more international collaboration in our sector.”
Note - Contact the Elderly is now Re-engage
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