The last year has been one of invention and adapting to unprecedented circumstances for all.
But community groups in Leeds have shown just how much can be achieved by working in unison.
Bramley Elderly Action, a group of over-60s in west Leeds, used to meet regularly in Bramley Community Centre for gentle exercise, coffee and bingo. The lockdown meant that had to stop, leading to increased isolation for members, many of whom live alone and have been shielding.
Plans for art and craft activities at the centre, including a new project to learn animation skills with Leeds Animation Workshop, were also threatened by the pandemic restrictions.
But centre staff, together with Leeds Inspired and the Leeds Animation women’s collective, found a way to hold the sessions online.
The Harehills-based animators packed up an animation kit for each participant, and delivered them to Bramley Community Centre, for distribution by what’s been dubbed “BrAmazon.” Community social worker Julie Botham says: “It’s Bramley’s own version of Amazon.
“The local running group, Bramley Breezers, combine their exercise with running a community delivery service to older people in the area.”
Once supplied with their animation kits, the elderly participants ventured onto Zoom and proceeded to learn how to make animated films.
“It was a first for Bramley Elderly members, and a first for us too,” says Georgia Dixon-Lynch of Leeds Animation Workshop.
“Most of the participants had never used Zoom before, nor done any animation. And we had taught animation, but never online.
“As far as we know, Bramley could be the first place in the world where that’s been done.”
After nine weekly sessions, the new animators were all delighted and surprised at what they had managed to create.
“I had such fun doing it,” said member Maggie Towler.
Services and development manager Fran Graham is also very pleased with the success of sessions.
“It shows how creative and innovative the participants are,” she says.
According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, the number of over-50s experiencing loneliness is set to reach two million by 2025/26.
This compares to around 1.4 million in 2016/17 – a 49 per cent increase in 10 years.
Half a million older people go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all, says the organisation, while well over half (59 per cent) of those aged 85 and over and 38 per cent of those aged 75 to 84 live alone.
Two-fifths all older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main company.
Loneliness is linked to early death, says the campaign, and loneliness, living alone and poor social connections “are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day”, it has been claimed.
These figures do not take into account the added strain of coronavirus lockdowns.
Speaking about the animation project, Georgia adds: “The social interaction has been really enjoyable, but also the participants had the chance to tell their stories of life before, and during, the lockdown and they’ve been able to portray their hopes for the future.”
A short film, Locked Down In West Leeds, has been made by Leeds Animation Workshop to showcase the work of the group’s animators.
It will be screened to the participants this month, with plans for a premiere at Bramley Community Centre as soon as restrictions are lifted.