The people fighting elderly loneliness in Islington
Being lonely at an elderly age is something few people can afford to be, after some scientific studies have suggested loneliness to be as damaging to health as smoking or being severely overweight.
As a result, it is particularly worrying that the latest research suggests elderly residents of Islington might be lonelier than ever. Soaring house prices, local council budget cuts and failure to provide accessible social care are largely to blame.
Thankfully, Islington is home to a number of organisations and groups that are trying to combat these issues that the elderly are facing, in a variety of forms: day centres; befriending services and lunch clubs are but a few that the borough has to offer.
Moreover, the people running these facilities are facing a tougher job every day – with budget cuts a continuous issue – the future is nearly always uncertain.
Alex Schmidt runs a lunch club for over sixties at the Whittington Park Community Centre. Local residents can come any day of the week to meet with friends, take part in activities and exercises and have a hot lunch. The atmosphere is relaxed and inviting, but like similar groups in the area, it is under a near constant threat of being shut down. Alex believes that the reason groups like his are struggling is because of strategic cuts from the government.
“The government knows that these people aren’t going to take to the streets and protest and that’s why we are where they’re saving money.”
It is not hard to see where he is coming from, when there are new reports every day that crucial resources for the elderly in London might shut down. For most of them, the uncertainty is draining.
“I hope this place has a future but we just don’t know,” Alex explains. “More and more we are forced to rely on our own means of fundraising.”
Alex isn’t the only one concerned about funds. Ed Bartram runs the Friendship Network, which is based at the Manor Gardens Centre. His program seeks to pair up elderly residents of the area with a volunteer, who is willing to donate at least an hour of their time a week to speak with their partner. Last year they managed to pair over 70 elderly people with someone to talk to.
— Whittington Park (@WhittingtonPCA) May 3, 2017
“We’re dependent almost completely on voluntary donations,” Ed reveals. Partnerships with local shops and the odd donation from a generous source are what keep the Friendship Network going. This situation is not uncommon.
“Our befrienders don’t need any sort of special qualifications or training. More than anything they just need to be willing and able to listen,” he stresses. Just about anyone can volunteer with the service, making it one of the most accessible programs of its kind.
Groups and services are not the only way that the borough is dealing with loneliness, however. The Islington Pensioners Forum take a decidedly more political stance on the problem.
Treasurer of the Forum Eric Hill explains: “There’s an increasing belief that we pensioners are living a life of luxury when in reality most of us are really lacking basic social care. This is the first step to being lonely.”
To combat this, the group is heavily involved with the local council and similar pensioner groups around the country, even attending the Pensioners Parliament event every year.
Whilst government cuts might be making it harder than ever, services in Islington are providing a local answer to a national problem, carrying on with their notable work despite the constant threats of closure, budget cuts and the ongoing uncertainty.