Reaching out to help overcome loneliness

TO some people, they are the hiccups in life that bring you down, but with time, you overcome them.

Age UK Leeds volunteer Rob Shackleton serves Winifred Cornell and Beryl Snell.
Age UK Leeds volunteer Rob Shackleton serves Winifred Cornell and Beryl Snell.

But to others, a fall, a hospital stay or even a bereavement can cause a shift in confidence that can see an active, sociable older person, retreat into a world full of loneliness.

That’s where a service by Age UK Leeds, which is celebrating two years of changing lives for the better, comes in, making people feel, as one person put it, “part of the human race again”.

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The Supporting Wellbeing Service is part of the city’s £6m Time to Shine loneliness project, and supports older people who are frail or who have complex medical needs and are at high risk of social isolation.

The celebration event at St Chads Parish Centre in Far Headingley, Leeds.

After referrals from a GP, hospital, social care or even a self-referral, a member of the small team visits the person at home, and completes a holistic assessment of their health and social needs – be it interventions to tackle loneliness, identifying any benefits they may be entitled to, helping them to connect to their local community or linking up with a befriending scheme.

Since it launched in September 2016, 416 older people have been helped by the service.

Age UK Leeds independence at home manager, Samantha Latham, said: “People at any age often struggle to realise they are lonely, or don’t want to admit to it, and so our service is about reaching out to those people who need us the most.

“We are seeing more and more people come to us direct now, so the word is getting out that support it there.”

Emma Cooper from Age UK Leeds chats to Cyral and Beryl Snell.

People who have been helped by the Supporting Wellbeing Service attended a special event marking its first two years at St Chads Parish Centre in Headingley yesterday.

“A lot of the time, the people we support have frailty or a health condition, and often it’s something that will get better with time,” Miss Latham said. “Sometimes people just need a kick start to get going again.

“Little things can make a huge difference, such as identifying welfare assistance that could help them to get a taxi to a group or event, or get a cleaner to make things easier at home.

“Sometimes it’s about reconnecting with their community. We had one gentleman, who wanted to do bowls, but had had a heart attack and had lost the confidence to go – we got him back involved.

Rita Dawson from the Older People's Engagment Forum Age UK Leeds chats to 93-year-old veteran John Bowe

“There is so much going on that people can get involved with, but a lot of the information out there is on the internet. While a small minority are digitally savvy, that lack of information can be such a barrier. It’s often just a little hand-holding to help people to gain confidence.

“For some people, they don’t know where to turn, and that can be overwhelming.”

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Time to Shine is one of 14 Ageing Better projects across the country, including one in Sheffield, funded by the National Lottery.

In May, it marked the half-way point in its six-year mission to “turn the tide” of social isolation has helped more than 7,600 older people across the city.

When it was awarded £6m in September 2014, six months after the Yorkshire Post launched its Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign, it was estimated that there were 37,000 lonely or socially isolated older people in Leeds, with the number growing each year.

The first projects began in May 2015.

The Yorkshire Post has been campaigning to highlight the devastating health effects of loneliness, which can be as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, since 2014.

We launched our award-winning 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. For more on the campaign, visit