Celebrating three years of bringing Leeds’s lonely out of the shadows

The first anniversary celebrations for Time to Shine Market at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds.Ted Hunter is pictured in the Frame. Picture by Simon Hulme
The first anniversary celebrations for Time to Shine Market at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds.Ted Hunter is pictured in the Frame. Picture by Simon Hulme
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ITS aim was simple - offer the people of Leeds living in the shadows of loneliness their time to shine.

And halfway through the city’s groundbreaking £6m lottery-funded project set up to “turn the tide” of social isolation and prevent the damage loneliness can cause, it has helped more than 7,600 older people across the city.

Time to Shine will celebrate three years of improving the lives of older people with a celebration event at Leeds City Museum on May 25.

Leeds Older People’s Forum was one of 14 organisations across the country, including a similar project in Sheffield, to be awarded £1m a year from the Big Lottery Fund’s Fulfilling Lives: Ageing Better programme in September 2014.

Then, it was estimated that there were 37,000 lonely or socially isolated older people in Leeds, with the number growing each year. A growing body of evidence pointed to how damaging isolation could be to health - as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day - and the issue was beginning to come to the forefront of national attention.

Commissioning began almost immediately, and the first projects began in May 2015.

Since then, the number has spiralled, and it had an immediate impact.

Programme manager Hillary Wadsworth said: “The target was to reach 15,000 people over six years, and we’ve already reached 7,642 - some are one-off participants, and others are regulars.

“From the very beginning, from when the bid was being put together, a lot of the work has been co-produced by older people.

“Seventy-five per cent of our programme management board is made up of people over 50, and 237 older people have been involved in the design and development of the project.”

Across the city, Time to Shine has 30 ongoing projects, including schemes like Shared Tables, which began in Crossgates and spread across the city, and sees older people attend lunches at local restaurants and eat together and form friendships.

Activities are aimed at a range and breadth of groups of people, including members of BME and LGBT communities, and those with long-term health conditions or frailty.

“Sometimes the only people an older person might see or speak to each week is a doctor or carer,” Mrs Wadsworth said. “We are trying to give people hope - something to talk about or do, and a chance to make new friends.”

TIME to Shine projects have included long-running schemes such as Chapel Allerton’s Walk With Me project, Crossgate’s Shared Tables, and the Lycee Red group.

In September last year, an exhibition of images taken of participants in Time to Shine activities across the city went on display at Leeds City Museum.

The provocative pictures, taken by professional photographer Peter Howarth, aimed to show people what support was available, and included images taken at Lycee Red, a group for Chinese seniors at Belle Isle Community Centre; Wetherby Wise Chatter and Batter, which takes place at Wetherby Social Club; and groups ran across Leeds by the BME Elders Network.

Now Time to Shine is at its halfway stage, it is funding 11 new groups and activities - and there are already plans in place to ensure the good work continues beyond its funding period.

Mrs Wadsworth said: “There won’t be this level of funding after 2021, so we have to use the evidence we have collected about what has helped individual people who are facing isolation and the groups out there who are already helping older people to look at how things could be adopted.

“There seems to quite a movement now on loneliness, and I hope that our work I hope that our work has had an impact, but also, that society as a whole is more aware of the effects of isolation.”