Loneliness can creep in when you are no longer able to connect with the outside world

‘Time to Talk Befriending’ is an initiative that provide life-changing inter-generational befriending services for older people who feel extremely lonely. Founder Emily Kenward, chats to Livability about loneliness, honouring the wishes of older people and why capturing people’s faith memories is so important.

How did Time to Talk Befriending come into being?

In 2012 we carried out informal social action research supported by two local Brighton churches, University of Sussex social work faculty, the local LifeLines charity and Age UK Brighton and Hove. We knew many older residents lived locally but were rarely seen out in the community. 96 older residents completed our wide-ranging needs analysis questionnaire. Overwhelmingly, feedback was for friendship and human connection. Typical examples being: ‘Thank you so much for bringing us together. I didn’t think people cared’. This formed the origins of Time to Talk Befriending.

Starting as a grassroots project in 2012, formerly established in 2013 we became a small charity in November 2014. With steady growth, we now support over 230 older members, with the majority aged between 75-104. We have 196 befriending volunteers and 158 school students providing events/befriending. We also run weekly and monthly group befriending meet-ups in partnership with local Churches, where young people host and chat to our older members.

In your experience, what is the impact of loneliness and social isolation? How can loneliness affect people?

Nationally there is a staggering amount of evidence confirming the life-threatening impact of loneliness in older age, but it wasn’t until we started meeting older people through the charity that the reality of the issue hit home.

For many of the people we support they have limited or no contact family or friends, so our heart genuinely goes out to the couples who have spent a life-time together only to be left in an unfamiliar technological world when one half of the whole passes away. We have repeatedly seen how socially active people can become confined to the four walls of their homes after suffering from an unexpected illness or recovering from a fall.

It is amazing just how quickly the unwanted feeling of loneliness can creep in when you are no longer able to connect with the outside world. Take one lady’s story (aged 87) for example, who said: ‘I didn’t care if I lived or died. I was so lonely’. And this is how another lady (aged 88) felt when we first met her, who said: ‘I thought that was it for me. My lot in life. I didn’t think I could make new friends at my age’.

How has supporting with people living with dementia people to feel more connected to their community?

There are many examples of how our volunteers have provided consistent friendship and connections. One example really stands out. Our volunteer Susan took Geoffrey (who was in his nineties) to a dementia friendly gardening session at a local allotment in Hove called Plot 22.

Although Geoffrey could not remember the details of the day, the time they spent together in this environment was priceless. Susan reflected that she had never had such a warm response from Geoffrey when they said goodbye at the end. She said she could physically see the positive benefits through his body language and through the strong, thankful hug that he gave her which was very different than usual.

How might you use Livability’s new Dementia Inclusive Church resource ‘My Faith Matters’?

The need to honour the wishes and feelings of the older people we support is integral to our charity ethos, so this resource is a great way to enable us to ask questions about what is important to every individual – not just those living with dementia. In addition to sharing the resource with our members, I foresee this resource being shared with professionals and families. In our experience not everyone finds it comfortable talking about ‘spiritual well-being’ so this tool is ideal for exploring what is genuinely brings meaning to people’s lives. We can’t wait to use the resource in practice!

We have identified a real gap in provision for people whose memory has deteriorated. As a result, we have not always been able to offer befriending or access to our regular events because the need of the individual often outweighs the scope of what the charity can provide. Whilst we will always do our best to signpost for additional support, by utilizing the ‘My Faith Matters’ resource we might be able to work more collaboratively with individuals, families and professionals to discover what brings meaning to people’s lives. By doing so we might be able to locate volunteers who can build upon this information further thus enabling more people to benefit from friendship and company.

For more information

Find out more about Time To Talk Befriending here.

[thrive_link color=’orange’ link=’https://www.livability.org.uk/myfaithmatters/’ target=’_self’ size=’big’ align=’full’]Get your free copy of My Faith Matters here[/thrive_link]