How one village is tackling loneliness amid its ageing population

Beverley Community Lift user Daphne Kemp with driver Jim Whitfield in Cherry Burton near Beverley where the village population is ageing.  Picture Tony Johnson.
Beverley Community Lift user Daphne Kemp with driver Jim Whitfield in Cherry Burton near Beverley where the village population is ageing. Picture Tony Johnson.
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IN the 1960s, Cherry Burton near Beverley was a village on the up. New housing estates saw families flock in, filling the village schools, populating youth clubs and creating a community where people wanted to stay.

And that - says Rev Richard Parkinson, rector of St Michael’s Church - has become the root of what threatens that community, 50 years on.

After their children few the nest, the parents stayed, and Cherry Burton is now one of the most rapidly ageing places in Yorkshire. Between 1981 to 2011, the percentage of over 65s grew almost 200 per cent.

And that older population is at risk, from what is widely condemned as the epidemic of our times - isolation and loneliness. But St Michael’s is at the forefront of attempts to diminish that.

“We are very well aware of the growing sense of isolation in rural communities, it has the widest impact, and can affect not just the elderly, but people right across the spectrum,” Rev Parkinson said.

“In the 1960s, when the new housing was built, Cherry Burton had the opportunity to become just another dormitory village, full of people just commuting in and out. But that didn’t happen, and people made a real community with their families.

“But the problem is, they’re now at retirement age, and their children have moved on. The church used to run a youth club and activities but it soon became obvious they weren’t needed anymore. We have a fantastic primary school that is full of children from outside the village.

“There is still energy here, we have an active village hall and friendship group, but those who were once the driving force behind these things are getting older and are not as capable as they used to be.”

St Michael’s recently opened a community cafe, ran by a team of staff and volunteers, twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. It has linked up with community transport charity Beverley Community Lift, which picks up people from around the village.

“We wanted to provide a centre within the community that would help combat loneliness, and so far, it’s been a success,” Rev Parkison said. “We’re all too aware how easily people call fall off the radar. There was one lovely lady, who used to be very actively involved in village life, but when her husband died she stopped going places.

“It wasn’t until she passed away that people talked about how fondly they remembered her, they said ‘oh I thought she’d moved away’. Through grief, she had become more isolated.

“As a church, we are keen to provide pastoral care, through thoughtful and meaningful relationships with those who are bereaved or infirm.

“With the cafe, there’s no pressure, but it’s a chance to come along and make friends.”

That is made easier by Beverley Community Lift, which last year provided 24,000 mini bus journeys and 3,390 car journeys to help older people across Beverley, Market Weighton, Pocklington and all the villages in between, regain their independence.

Interim manager Marie-Louise Robinson they aimed to reach out with “a human touch” to reduce isolation.

“Cherry Burton is just a few miles from Beverley but if you don’t drive, you’re stuck,” she said.” When the church opened the community cafe, we thought it was an ideal opportunity to reconnect people.

“Older people have a great sense of pride, they don’t want to rely on family or friends, and our service helps them to retain their indepence.”

Campaign

The Yorkshire Post is now in its fifth year of campaigning to highlight the devastating health effects of loneliness, which can be as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, since 2014.

We launched the Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign after revealing the heartbreaking scale of social isolation in the region, which takes it toll on 91,300 older people.

We want loneliness to be universally recognised as a health priority in our communities. According to research, living with loneliness can also contribute to dementia and high blood pressure.

Throughout the campaign, in partnership with the Campaign to End Loneliness, the Royal Voluntary Service and the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, we have also encouraged our readers to do their bit by volunteering for support services.

For full details, visit yorkshirepost.co.uk/loneliness