Mary Socha lives on her own in a small, two-room ground floor flat in Dewsbury screened from the world beyond the sheltered housing complex she calls home.
For 25 years she has lived alone. She does not have a tight support network around her having never married nor had any children and she often feels lonely.
She has little opportunity to leave the flat as going outside out is slow and taxing work requiring the use of a walking stick and so for much of the week the 62-year-old is without any company, confined within her small living room come kitchenette where she passes the time doing housework, reading, writing, practising embroidery and watching TV.
Thousands of older people in Yorkshire live alone like Mary with no one to talk to. Fortunately for Mary, she was thrown a vital connection with the outside world last August. Sofia Malik, a local 25-year-old mother of one, visits twice a week. Sofia is a volunteer with the Kirklees district branch of the Royal Voluntary Service as part of its Good Neighbours project.
Older people in need of practical support are referred to the charity and befrienders like Sofia provide valuable company and friendship to the people they visit.
In years past, Mary volunteered at Batley Health Centre where she worked with under fives and people with disabilities, now it is she who benefits from the kind-hearted generosity of volunteers. She says she values her independence and likes living alone but she would find it difficult without Sofia’s support. Together they visit the shops and occasionally stop off somewhere for a coffee.
Mary says: “I try and keep myself busy. Sofia helps with the shopping and getting me around. I’m always glad when the next time comes for me to see here because she brightens my day up. Her visits have made a vast difference. Sometimes I get lonely but you get through all that, it’s knowing that I’m going to see Sofia.”
Sofia, who lives nearby, says she comfortably tailors time dedicated to befriending around family life.
“It’s been even better than I thought it would be. I have made a really good friend in Mary and I would recommend it to everyone. I’ve noticed a lot of difference since I started coming. When we first met her confidence was very low and it was difficult for her to go outside but we’ve built her confidence back up.”