How we’re tackling loneliness in my sister Jo Cox’s memory this Christmas – Kim Leadbeater

AS we come towards the end of a year like no other, and a Christmas which is going to be very different too, it is important to reflect on what we have learnt from these unprecedented times, and to consider what we can do to make the coming months as positive as possible.

The Jo Cox Foundation is stepping up its campaign on loneliness.
The Jo Cox Foundation is stepping up its campaign on loneliness.

2020 has been tough for so many of us, and even I have found it hard to remain true to my glass half-full personality at times. But my late sister Jo Cox and I were brought up to always focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t. I’ll always be grateful to our parents for that.

Loneliness was an issue my sister cared deeply about. She said ours should not be a ‘country where thousands of people are living lonely lives forgotten by the rest of us’. And the social restrictions of the pandemic have meant that, sadly, many more people have reported feeling isolated and lonely.

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But I have always said that the one positive thing about loneliness is the fact that we can all do something about it. And this explains why the Jo Cox Foundation is asking people to ‘face loneliness together – one connection at a time’ through The Great Winter Get Together.

Kim Leadbeater is ambassador for The Jo Cox Foundation and Jo Cox’s sister.

The campaign highlights how small acts of kindness, compassion and connection can make a huge difference to somebody’s life. It can be as simple as a phone call to a friend you haven’t spoken to for a while, or a neighbour who’s living alone. Or maybe a work colleague who manages to look cheerful in all the virtual meetings, but feels desperately isolated in the real world. Put the kettle on and make time to have a proper conversation.

We have seen some fantastic examples of how people have used technology to stay connected this year – online family quizzes and virtual get-togethers – and whilst the novelty may have worn off in some ways we can at least now add a Christmas theme with fancy dress, festive music and snacks! It may be the only interaction, albeit virtual, that some of us have.

But it is also important to remember that not everybody is able to connect online. A lot of older people can struggle with technology. And I say that as somebody who is also not particularly tech-savvy and who feels strongly that there is no substitute for a real life smile, wave or friendly ‘Hello, how are you?’ Okay, maybe it has to be through a window or from the end of the garden path or across the aisle in the supermarket, but a smile is still a smile and the memory of a little chat can make all the difference to somebody who might have no other social contact that day.

Jo’s ambition when she first had the idea of a loneliness commission was to ‘turbo charge’ the public’s awareness of the issue. With a wide array of partner organisations, I hope that since her death we have helped to realise that ambition. But it’s also up to us all as individuals to play our part.

he late Jo Cox was amongst the first to highlight the societal issue of loneliness.

If you want to volunteer, the Royal Voluntary Service, one of our long-term partners here, is running a ‘Check-in and Chat’ service as part of NHS Volunteer Responders. They’ll put you in contact with somebody who would appreciate a call.

Some well known faces including the Duchess of Cambridge, actor Michael Sheen and singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor have been making calls as part of the scheme. Sophie rang Owen in Scarborough who said that “until this pandemic, I never knew the real difference between being alone and being lonely”. A lot of people will know exactly what Owen meant by that.

The Great Winter Get Together is all about understanding that difference – and then taking action. We have been working with some amazing volunteers who have been writing special letters to people in local care homes and people who are shielding. We have also been busy organising an online concert and virtual craft sessions, and in partnership with our friends at the Batley Bulldogs, we have been putting together Christmas hampers.

The Great Winter Get Together team has come up with lots more ideas for how you can reach out, say thank you and stay connected so please join us by going to our website www.greatgettogether.org/winter_get_together or giving RVS NHS Responders a call on 0808 196 3646.

The Duchess of Cambridge leaving Batley Community Centre yesterday where she learned about the work taking place to combat loneliness.

With vaccines on the horizon we can look forward to better days, but we still need to get through the winter months. The best way to do that is by taking inspiration from Yorkshire’s wonderful community spirit. If we do so, we can – and will – come out the other side of this pandemic a more caring and compassionate society.

Kim Leadbeater is ambassador for the Jo Cox Foundation and Jo Cox’s sister.

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