UK Older People's Day (Part 2)

08 Apr 2014

For UK Older People’s Day 2014, as well as the theme of ‘Full of Life’, each month has been designated with a particular theme.  For April, the theme is ‘Full of Companionship’.

“She was struck by the simple truth that sometimes the most ordinary things could be made extraordinary, simply by doing them with the right people” – Nicholas Sparks, ‘The Lucky One’.

Sonia says:

We take companionship for granted – it is as Nicholas Sparks says, the ability to enjoy the ordinary because we do it in the company of like-minded people. Compare watching your favourite television programme alone, or sitting with a loved one or friend either during or even after the programme so you can talk about it and share your thoughts.

So many people live alone and rarely enjoy such pleasures. Their visitors, if they are lucky enough to have them, feel they have to be busy with them or fill the silences often with questions or information that has little comfort or interest to the person they visit.

Over the past few years we have introduced two very different approaches to befriending and companionship. The first, our community volunteering programme, ensures that we match people with similar interests so that they have a common framework to the visits – whether that be a walk in the park, watching a game of football together, or sharing recipes or a game of scrabble.

The second, funded by the Department of Health, is our supportive community programme which began on the basis of the Timebanking model, where people swapped what they could do for each other. It soon became very apparent that this was not really what the people who came to the scheme wanted. They wanted to find friends – those they could enjoy a meal with, a visit to a museum or theater, or even a group they could go with to a community event so they did not walk in alone.

People befriend others with the best of intentions but this will not always combat loneliness. It is our interests and lifestyles that bind us together and the knack of finding opportunities where people can explore new friendships, based on those shared interests and lifestyles, are often few and far between. We need to move away from a paternalistic approach where we see someone alone and find them someone well-meaning to visit or plug them into an activity that is designed for ‘older people’, to one that connects people so that they can reintegrate into society in a way that is meaningful to them.

Overwhelmingly our supportive community members have told us that the one thing they would like to introduce is a telephone circle where they can be in touch with each other. These small connections will, I believe, lead to huge changes in the members’ lives. Just think how much all of us value the phone call of a friend and the sharing of news and gossip, often just when we thought nobody cared.

One day we could each live alone, what would make that a lifestyle fulfilled rather than a lonely existence?

Sonia Douek is Head of volunteering and community development at Jewish Care and has developed a strategy for the organisation that has seen the growth of volunteers in the organisation reach 3,000 people.

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