This month, Archway’s Director Sheila Furlong attended the Loneliness Summit in Oxford. The Summit was organised by Age UK around the anniversary of the death of MP Jo Cox, who championed the Commission on Loneliness. Sheila Furlong participated in the Summit giving a brief message about Archway’s work.
It was a strong reminder of the importance of small community orgainsations such as Archway. Jo Ind’s report, published in 2015 on behalf of the Diocese of Oxford “Exploring Christian Responses to Loneliness In the Thames Valley” was included in the delegate pack. The report came out of a Justice Forum on loneliness in which Archway played a key role. It gives a vivid picture of loneliness nationally as well as locally and what we can do to address it.
From the report we find that loneliness is by no means restricted to any particular economic class, though there is a higher incidence in less affluent areas. There is a higher occurrence in the older population who are more likely to suffer bereavement or ill health. But loneliness, though often hidden is also prevalent among younger generations, for example, the student population, who are at risk of becoming dislocated from family support networks when leaving home.
In fact the report seems to circle on dislocation as a theme, the social and economic reasons given for the rise of loneliness, are given as being due to families becoming more scattered geographically. But even if families live close by, if both partners in a household are working, as is now a norm, individuals become less likely to have the time to visit an isolated family member. The other major cause of an increase in loneliness is sited in the report as being due to cuts in social services, Jo Ind quotes that “an estimated 2 million people aren’t getting the care that they need.”
And it is at this point perhaps where the charity Archway, can step in, welcoming adults of all ages, backgrounds and situations, forging social connections, opportunities for people to get out of their houses and socialise as well as visiting and connecting with people who are housebound. As Jo Ind reports of her experience of visiting Archway’s call in cafe, Wednesday Welcome…
“I arrived as a journalist with a clear idea of two groups of people – service users and volunteers; the lonely and those who befriended them. But despite my clarity as I looked around at the people chatting at tables, I realised I’d no idea who was in which category. No one was wearing a badge saying ‘lonely.’ No one was wearing one saying ‘volunteer’ either.
“Wading in to the sea of conversations without knowing, was a moving experience. I found my perception began to change. The distinction between the lonely and those that befriend the lonely became first blurred and then unimportant. I became aware of my own loneliness I also became aware of my ability to listen and meet people in theirs. When we are talking about the lonely we are not talking about ‘them’ and ‘us.'”
Jo goes on later in the report to quote the experience of a recent attendee of Wednesday Welcome…
“It exudes kindness…if you go to another cafe, you don’t expect people to approach you, or if you do, it seems a bit odd. But here you can chat to people . Nobody looks you up and down . You feel relaxed. They’re just so nice here.”
Events such as the Loneliness Summit and Jo Ind’s report remind us that though loneliness always has been present and perhaps always will be, the landscape is changing; locally and nationally, socially and economically, increasing the risk of loneliness. But also with these changes come an increased awareness of the challenges and so sparks new initiatives to tackle the problem and to lift the stigma of loneliness. Loneliness is an experience that will affect almost everyone of us at some point in our lives. And when it comes down to it, the enduring solution is often as simple as a cup of tea, a piece of cake and a chat, as can be found at our Wednesday Welcome call in cafe.