‘Young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate.’ – Jo Cox MP
The challenge of overcoming loneliness in our communities has come under sharp focus in recent years. Our lives are busier, our commutes are longer, and our families are often spread to the four corners of the globe, leading to less time together. Key life transitions can also impact heavily.
The ending of a relationship, bereavement or children leaving home are key periods where a sense of isolation can grow. As we seek to come to terms with the changes we will often feel a range of emotions which are often troubling. Those who are older often face a unique set of challenges that can make loneliness an acute problem with a high impact on quality of life. As mobility decreases and the flow of life changes, many will face the unexpected problem of facing long periods without contact or company.
It should come as no surprise that studies show that those with strong connections are most likely to live longer and report greater levels of Happiness.
Livability’s Happiness Course trains over 100 people of all ages per year to run the course to help people connect in their communities. Those who train with us, consistently identify quality relationships as key for a fulfilled life over all other factors. As we age, and face loss of our peers our need for quality connections remains.
Jo Cox Loneliness, established to tackle community isolation are championing a campaign which encourages us all to ‘Start a Conversation.’ In partnership with four other Christian charities, Pilgrim’s Friend, Linking Lives, Gift of Years, and Capital Mass, Livability are supporting the campaign by raising awareness of what we can all do to increase connection and tackle loneliness. We are united in our desire to see communities stirred to action.
How would it look if we first started thinking about each person’s strengths and gifts?
In recent years, Livability has been championing a strengths-based approach to building community. Rather than look to the gaps first, we want to look at what’s working in our churches and communities, and how that can be strengthened. It is only after understanding our strengths fully we can start to draw in help to meet the gaps. What happens when we apply these principles to the person who is experiencing loneliness?
Looking at their gifts, their history, their likes and their loves will bring a different result. If we can find joint activities to do to together, we will build different connections and conversations. In our Dementia-Friendly Church work, we encourage congregations to use creativity as a way to connect.
Activities such as prayer, craft, music can be great sources of connection when verbal communication may be limited.
We met recently with a small village church with a regular congregation of 20. The church were aware of the problem of isolation of older people in their community, but felt like they lacked the resource to tackle it. We tried to turn the problem on its head. It seemed that the most helpful question was not ‘How do we solve the problem of loneliness in our community?’ but ‘What do we like doing we can invite others to join in with?’ We then explored the wide range of interests the group enjoyed, which led to further creative ideas of how others could be included.
We agreed that this would feel rather different than the time and effort needed to organise a large lunch, which could be a stretch for a small group. By sharing activities we love, and inviting others, we can start to give from an abundant place.
Small- scale actions can still create great connections between people.
When we invite others to share what they love, we can create a virtuous cycle. This approach becomes more sustainable, and there are clearer benefits. With any group of people, retired or otherwise, there will be an abundance of hobbies, life experiences and skills that can create new friendships. The problem of loneliness might seem enormous. Yet if we start where we are, and look at what’s there in each person, before we look at filling the gaps, we are likely to build the kind of connections where relationships will start to spark.
Download our Developing a Dementia-Friendly Church guideWe have teamed up with the Alzheimer’s Society to produce a practical guide for churches and other faith communities looking for practical advice on how to create more dementia-friendly environments.
Download your copy here