Friendship Really Matters: Lonely Christmas no more: Combating loneliness in South West London
Being lonely at Christmas is a thing of the past for clients at a Regenerate RISE programme in south-west London.
Loneliness is a year-round issue for over one million elderly people in the UK and as Christmas approaches, around one-quarter of pensioners are anticipating a lonely or unhappy Christmas, according to a recent report.* Livability’s community-focused ‘link’ churches, in some of London’s most deprived areas, are setting out to change this, and for older people at The Platt centre in south-west London, it means a Christmas transformed.
The packed programme at The Platt day centre, which is a facility owned by Livability and run by Regenerate RISE (RR), features a Christmas party, a Christmas tea at a local girls’ school, a Christmas event at Wembley, Christmas bingo – and the list goes on. The average age of Platt’s clients is around 80 and many have an age-related disability. The majority live on their own and see family members infrequently.
‘People find weekends and bank holidays particularly lonely, and tell us they look forward to coming back to the Platt each week,’ says pastoral care worker Jackie McLaughlan. Whatever the Christmas event, the chief joy for many is ‘being around other people and having something to look forward to,’ says Jackie.
Friendships made at the Platt have been a lifeline for June, who has been part of this community for over a year. Aged 77 and widowed for 20 years, she was feeling depressed so when her GP suggested having more social contact might help, June said she would give The Platt a try. Now she comes four times a week ‘and I feel much better. Everyone is so friendly and I’m with people from the same era as me.’ June has moved from ‘not knowing anybody here’ to making a close friend of Philomena, whom she discovered lives around the corner, ‘and there’s Dot, Michael, Hilda, Ida, Jack – I’ve made quite a few friends.’
One highlight this Christmas will be attending Livability’s carol service at St Martin-in-the-Fields, central London. This is the second Christmas that June will spend with friends from the Platt, and she is delighted about all the events she will be attending.
As well as the St Martin’s service, June is looking forward to a Christmas tea, hosted by Putney High School, something she really enjoyed last year: ‘It was very, very good – they really worked hard for us. We had musical entertainment, a quiz and presents, and the girls help with everything and chat to us.’
The enjoyment is mutual, says the school’s deputy head of sixth form Emma Keeble. ‘The girls really enjoy meeting the guests and in previous years they have sent them Christmas cards. The next day they often speak about the people they sat with at the event and recall their conversations very warmly. The students can learn so much from their senior neighbours, from stories about their lives to just learning to talk with complete strangers of a different generation.’
Working with community partners is at the heart of Livability’s ethos and is a vital ingredient in Regenerate RISE’s work. Hillsong Church, which runs several congregations across London, has become another important partner, both with practical help and as a place of worship for Regenerate RISE clients who wish to join in. ‘Our partners give us a great deal of support and encouragement, and we share ideas and values,’ says Jackie.
Sharing Christmas with others is a special part of June’s year, but come January, June still feels she’s got plenty to look forward to: ‘I love everything about coming here! I feel so welcome and everybody can help each other in different ways.’
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