Volunteers needed to make £6m loneliness project a success

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PEOPLE OF all ages across Sheffield are being called upon to use their experiences to help those suffering from loneliness in a £6m project that launches this week.

As previously reported in The Yorkshire Post, South Yorkshire Housing Association was awarded the cash from the Big Lottery Fund last year to lead a city-wide project aimed at tackling loneliness and social isolation.

After months of preparation, Age Better in Sheffield is finally up and running, but needs the support of people of all ages to make it a success.

It is estimated there are 177,000 people aged 50 and over living in Sheffield and that over 16,000 of them experience social isolation and loneliness – the Age Better in Sheffield campaign aims to ensure that no-one feels like they are alone.

Gareth Parkin is the Programme Lead for Age Better in Sheffield, he said, “Securing £6m of investment for the project was a real coup for Sheffield. We’ve got big ambitions for the city and this is a real opportunity to make a difference to the lives of lots of people.

“We know that social isolation can have terrible effects on wellbeing; doubling the risk of dementia, tripling the risk of heart conditions and having the same effect on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”

Through a range of partners, including the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) and Sheffield Cubed, the six-year project is launching a range of innovative schemes that will tackle the issue in different ways.

Sheffield Mind is providing free counselling sessions to people over 50, where low mental wellbeing is contributing to their isolation.

People with experience of isolation will be helping those who are currently lonely, and an inter-generational skill swap is bringing together older and younger people to benefit from each others skills and experience.

And it’s not just supporting older people who are lonely. One of the RVS projects will see older people support younger people who are at risk of isolation due for reasons such as being new to the city, moving out of the family home or becoming a parent.

Part of the money will be used to encourage neighbours to look out for each other by offering a free online toolkit aimed at getting people talking.

Mr Parkin said: “People are telling us they don’t know who lives next door - they don’t know who is isolated near them. Whenever we have snow in Sheffield people help their neighbours and make sure they are ok. We want people to feel as though they have permission to be neighbourly all the time.

“So far GPs, support workers and access teams are really buying into it - but our concern is reaching the thousands of people who are not already accessing services.

“We need to get behind their front doors.”

The project is primarily working across four Sheffield Council wards - Woodhouse, Beauchief and Greenhill, Firth Park and Burngreave.

To volunteer for any of the projects, or if you could benefit from one, contact 0114 2900 250 or visit www.agebettersheff.co.uk

The Yorkshire Post launched the Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign in February 2014 after revealing the heartbreaking scale of social isolation in the region.

More than 91,000 older people in our region are lonely most or all of the time. Since the launch of the campaign, there has been major investment in tackling social isolation in Yorkshire.

The lottery’s Ageing Better Fund, which supported Age Better in Sheffield, also gave £6m to a project in Leeds, ran by the city’s older people forum. Out of the Shadows: Time to Shine forms part of Leeds’s efforts to be an age-friendly city. Leeds has 246,000 older residents, an estimated 37,000 of those older people can be described as lonely or socially isolated.