Loneliness has no barriers: it affects people of all ages

James Bolam and Roy
James Bolam and Roy

Loneliness doesn’t just affect people in their old age.

People of all ages can become socially isolated, especially if they suffer from a disability or illness, but a Wigan Council service is hoping to combat this.

The Shared Lives Service supports adults who need support due to a disability, age or illness by helping them to develop meaningful friendships that enable them to live life to the full.

The project helps them achieve goals such as going to college, develop travel skills, visit places outside Wigan and go on holiday.

Adults who need support are carefully matched with Shared Lives champions, who are local people with shared interests, or simply someone that they get on well with.

Louise Todd, 40, who has been volunteering as a champion for just over a year, has said the project has changed her life as well as the two people she has been matched with.

She said: “I know what it is like being lonely. I am not from Wigan and I have four children but they are all at school so in the day it was just me lonely at home.

“I met one lady who only lived up the road and it has just been fantastic, I wouldn’t look back now. It has opened my eyes to how many people there are who are lonely and don’t get out.

“I see two ladies. One lady, all she wants is to do is go to Aldi twice a week.

“It is so simple for us to jump in the car and go but it is massive for her. It is so rewarding because I have made two new friends now.

“The other lady I take out has really built her confidence. All she wanted to do was got to Reflex (a club night for disabled people) once a month. She has a really good night and she has recently a boyfriend who is another champions service user.

“We are like one big family. I’ve made friends and she has made friends. I can’t praise it enough. It has changed my life and how I think about things.

“I’d became really complacent about my own life until I started doing this.”

Louise’s family has also embraced her volunteering and they regularly spend their Saturday nights with one of the ladies she was matched with.

“My children are aged between eight and 17 so they have their own things in life to do,” Louise, who lives in Platt Bridge, said.

“My second lady, all she wanted to do was to go to a disco, she is 26 and that is all she wanted to do. But she comes to my house now and has tea with us on a Saturday night and we sit and watch X Factor. My family have really taken to it and to her.

“I went shopping on Saturday with my daughter and the other lady and we had a lovely afternoon. I am not a champion, she’s not a service user, she’s a friend. It isn’t a job, it is not a chore.

“We went to the Christmas markets last week with her boyfriend and another champion and it was so lovely.

“We stood and watched as her and her boyfriend danced together at Reflex.

“It was a lovely simple thing but that’s all they want, that is how it makes you take check of your own life.

“The team is fantastic and so down to earth. They always listen to us and they are always there which makes the difference I can’t praise them enough. I was apprehensive at first about going into a stranger’s home but I clicked with those two ladies straight away.

“The lady I take shopping confides in me and that is a really big thing. She tells me things that she can’t tell her family. She’s gone from not going out at all to going shopping.

“I look back now and see how much they have changed and it is nice to see that I have been able to help a lonely person. I just wish more people would help, it is not a nice thing being lonely.

“Even having four children, I still felt lonely. Someone coming in for a couple of hours a week can make a huge difference and they have helped me as well.

“I don’t work and I had been looking for a part time job but wasn’t successful. It really got me down and then to do this is amazing. I’d never leave now. Just a few hours a week makes a huge impact on someone’s life and it also makes a huge impact on the champion.”

Wigan Council has other ways other ways of identifying and helping people who might be lonely.

Their social care teams are trained to identify people at risk and signpost them to services which might help, such as Contact the Elderly, which featured in yesterdays Evening Post as part of the Christmas spirit campaign.

Wigan and Leigh Housing teams have also been helping to identify elderly people living in its properties and connecting them up with groups and services that can help prevent them from becoming socially isolated.

Four examples are:

A 90-year-old gentleman moved to Golborne as part of Wigan and Leigh Homes’ grouped housing scheme to be closer to his family. He arrived in the area knowing nobody else other than his family.

When he moved to his new home, a Live Well Officer arranged for him to attend activities as part of the scheme and provided details of other activities and events in the local area.

Since moving to his new home, the gentleman has regularly participated in activities and has made some good friends.

Wigan and Leigh Homes worked with a gentleman, 72, who was due to be discharged from short-term supported housing.

The gentleman had ongoing support needs and was interested in moving to one of the grouped housing schemes. WALH were able to offer him a bungalow and have provided support with his tenancy.

Since moving to his new home, he has met other residents through attending events and activities and is now very happy and settled.

A gentleman in his 70’s is living in one of the Wigan and Leigh Homes schemes in Pemberton after sadly losing his wife. As a result, he became very lonely and he felt isolated.

During a conversation with a member of staff, it became apparent that he had previously enjoyed walking as a hobby so WALH connected him with a local walking group and also encouraged him to attend activities at the scheme.

A lady was living in a bungalow and became socially isolated after the death of her husband and two close friends.

Following a conversation with a member of staff about her situation, the lady said she would like to move to accommodation for older people.

Wigan and Leigh Homes arranged for her to view some accommodation and attend a social activity as she felt sad about leaving her bungalow because of all of the memories it held.

After visiting the scheme and meeting other residents she wanted to move there and WALH were able to offer accommodation. The lady has since settled-in well, made new friends through participating in social activities and days out and is enjoying her new home.

Actor James Bolam has lent his support to Age UK’s campaign to end loneliness. Known for his roles in TV series The Likely Lads and more recently New Tricks, the acclaimed actor has been working with the charity to create and advert.

The advert tells the real-life story of Roy, an older man who became lonely after losing his wife of more than 40 years.

Roy said: “Loneliness is something I have experienced first-hand and it goes without saying how upsetting it can be.

“My beautiful wife passed away one year ago and not a day goes by when I don’t miss her dearly.

“It takes some getting used to, going from spending every single day for the past 55 years with the woman I love, to facing each day without her.”