For three days last week Mary, 89, of Wakefield, saw no one except the cleaner and the hairdresser, and didn’t leave the house. As part of The Yorkshire Post’s Loneliness campaign, she tells Lindsay Pantry how life can be lonely.
“I got up about 10 o’clock in the morning. A friend picked me up and took me to the bingo.
“I was out for about an hour and a half. I’m not a bingo fan but I just go to meet people. I’ve been going for about three years. The trouble is, you get to know people and they go and die.
“When I got home, I watched television until about 10pm. I have difficulty hearing people so I don’t talk on the phone that often.”
“I got up about 9am and my friend took me to the clinic for blood tests, then we had lunch in a pub. My friend George is 90, so he’s only able to take me out if he feels well enough.
“I don’t have many friends or neighbours who look in on me.
“People round here, they are in their cars and off. When they are back they are straight into their houses. They have each other and are quite content. Everybody has their own lives and I don’t want to intrude.”
“I got up at 8.30am. I have a young lady who comes and does a bit of cleaning for me, and she was due. When she went I just stayed in and read until I went to bed.
“I like reading historical and romance novels, or a book that tells you about life in the last war.
“My husband, John, died 27 years ago. When I was first widowed, I was very much younger, I could dash around for the bus, go dancing, I had an active life.
“As I got older, I had a stroke, things were never the same. I’ve had a major heart attack. I can’t walk to the bus stop. The park is not far away but it’s getting to the park that’s the problem.
“Up until I was 80, I was coping reasonable, but it’s gone down the rattle since then.”
“The hairdresser came about 12 o’clock, and after that I just stayed in and read. My cleaner and hairdresser keep me in touch with things.
“(If I feel lonely) I just go and lie down in the bedroom and try to shut everything out.”
“My friend George took me to the supermarket. Sometimes he’s not up to it.”
“I spent all day reading or watching television.”
“Sunday is horrendous. Everybody has family coming over or friends coming. You look out the window and see everybody getting in their cars and going out.
“Sunday is when I feel loneliest. Everybody is doing their own thing, you feel so alone.
“To an extent I don’t mind being alone, as I was an only child, but Sundays, because everyone has someone, I start to feel a bit sorry for myself.
“But this week was the day of the tea party.
“It’s the best thing I ever did, it’s a pity they don’t do it once a fortnight.”
Once a month, for a few hours, Mary is taken to a Contact the Elderly tea party, where surrounded by a group who have become good friends, she is able to forget about the loneliness she suffers.
She said: “I saw an article on them. I thought, ‘that could be me’, but thought there must be a catch, so didn’t bother getting in touch.
“But then I thought what I could be missing.
“You meet people similar to yourself and you realise you’re not the only one with troubles. We’re able to have a laugh.
“I really look forward to it.”
LIKE MANY of the 350 elderly guests that attend Contact the Elderly’s monthly tea parties in Yorkshire, for Mary, Sunday is the loneliest day of the week.
When the charity started in 1965 it’s aim was simple, ensure those most at risk of loneliness get the companionship and support they deserve by bringing together groups of older people for monthly tea parties.
And with the number of isolate older people continuing to rise, its work is more important than ever.
The charity’s research shows 17 per cent of older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week and 11 per cent are in contact less than once a month.
Contact the Elderly’s chief executive, Mary Rance said: “At Contact the Elderly we are focussed on the solution, rather than the problem. Our simple formula of tea, cake and conversation on a Sunday afternoon provides a vital lifeline to those with little or no support from family, friends or statutory services.
“Our 2014 survey of over 1,200 older guests revealed just how fundamental our work is, with 96% of older guests saying the tea parties give them something to look forward to, and 80% feeling happier as a result of joining a group.
In May the charity backed The Yorkshire Post’s loneliness campaign. Then, it had 42 groups in the region, with 664 volunteers helping more than 300 elderly people have contact with others. In just three months, it has added four more groups, more than 50 extra guests, and seen the number of volunteers in Yorkshire rise to more than 700.
But with more people waiting to join, it vitally needs more volunteer drivers and host to give up a few hours a month to help provide a lifeline to those who have so little contact with others.
Mrs Rance said: “Since our inception in 1965 we have created over a million friendship links between Contact the Elderly volunteers and older guests. As we approach our 50th anniversary in 2015 we plan to expand the reach of our invaluable work through our ongoing Power of Contact campaign, and double the number of older people we support.
“In order to do this we are calling on volunteers to spare just a few hours each month, and also encouraging local health and wellbeing boards to support us by prioritising the increasing issue of loneliness in old age”.
For more information on volunteering with Contact the Elderly, or to find out how to attend, call 01535 632592or visit www.contact-the-elderly.org.uk