Artistic Alan relies on Mick for conversation and shopping

Alan Brown, 82, and his befriender Mick Downing in Sheffield
Alan Brown, 82, and his befriender Mick Downing in Sheffield
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Pensioner Alan Brown has lived alone in the house where he was born, and to which he returned to look after his mother until she died, for 17 years.

The divorcee former steel industry worker rarely leaves his small semi in the Endcliffe area of Sheffield and he is excited to have guests - there are four of us including Alan’s befriender Mick Downing and Wilma Smith from the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) - the most visitors he has had at any one time he says.

Alan usually passes the day sat in a chair in his snug kitchen. Five people struggle to stand up in this room so it is to the living room where Alan enthusiastically describes the brightly coloured geometric paintings he has made himself that adorn the walls. He spends much of his time painting.

His daughter lives away and he says he has no friends to speak of, so the weekly visits on Mondays since last June of Mick, a volunteer with the RVS’s Good Friends scheme of which Wilma is project manager, are welcome events.

“I don’t know what I would do without someone who can do my shopping. I never go out walking. I have several sticks and things like that to help me around. I used to travel by bus to the library to get books to read.”

Mick has an English degree and Alan is something of a poet so they often discuss literature.

Alan adds: “Everybody’s visit makes me happy. I must admit sometime afterwards I am at a low and I find I can’t walk as well but I find it’s better when people come.”

Alan was initially referred to the RVS by Sheffield City Council’s community support team. His garden was overgrown and when Mick started visiting his first task was to tidy it up. Since then, drawing up Alan’s shopping list has become a key feature of Mick’s visits.

There is a bond between the pair. Mick, 60, who is retired, volunteered for the RVS in response to the Good Neighbours ‘Manhunt’ campaign to recruit more male befrienders. He said: “I think we get on reasonably well. The shopping involves us having a chat and the garden was the same. It’s more about the interaction and I think it does make a difference because it would be rotten to be without company every day.

“It’s absolutely, really enjoyable. It’s not a chore. It’s something you can do in your own way and something that most people would find surprisingly enjoyable.”

Special report: Loneliness - The Hidden Epidemic

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