The simple idea helping people escape the clutches of social isolation

AT THE age of 89, Tommy is the oldest line dancer taking part in a new weekly class in a South Yorkshire community centre.

A tea party organised by Home Instead Senior Care

He is one of hundreds of older people around North Sheffield, Barnsley and Rotherham who now have the opportunity to get out of the grips of social isolation and loneliness thanks to a very simple idea.

The WOW (What’s on Where) Directory was developed by Kathy Markwick, a community development officer at care organisation Home Instead Senior Care Sheffield. Since the first issue covering North Sheffield was published last November, the leaflets, which list lunch clubs, coffee mornings, societies and regular activities for older people in their areas, have been replicated in other locations and spawned fresh activities to encourage more people to get out of the house and make the most of what is happening around them.

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“Tommy is amazing. He came along to our first taster session with his wife. The two of them used to go together but she could no longer manage, Coming along encouraged him, and others, to get some exercise, but also get out of the house and have mental and social stimulation,” Mrs Markwick said.

Kathy Markwick, developer of the WOW directory.

More than 30 people attended the first line dancing taster class at Inman Pavilion in Stocksbridge, and it was such as success it turned into a regular event. A Tai Chi class has also been developed, and Mrs Markwick also organises tea parties in Barnsley supported by the three local Rotary clubs.

She gave up a 20-year career in banking to start working in the care sector last year, and said she was immediately struck by the loneliness felt by many of the older people she came across.

“I soon realised that so many people were without their families or regular contact,” she said. “People can find themselves being lonely for a number of different reasons, like bereavement or divorce, and they would ask our care givers if they knew of anything they could do. When we started researching the guide we realised just how much was going on - but people simply didn’t know what was going on. We have been told so many heart-warming stories which confirm that initiative has quite simply become a lifeline for so many people.”

WOW directories are available in GPs surgeries, dental practices and community centres, and a guide for South Sheffield is currently under development.

Mrs Markwick said: “WOW has been receiving rave reviews so far. I had a call from a solicitor in York who wanted a copy of the Barnsley WOW, so that she could research activities for her 85-year-old mum, they have been so popular.”

For more information, or to order a directory, call Mrs Markwick on 0114 2469666.

Threat to health

The YORKSHIRE Post has been campaigning to highlight social isolation in the region with its Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign.

According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, more than 91,000 older people in Yorkshire are lonely all or most of the time. A report by the charity and Age UK in January said one in ten older people are seriously increasing the risk of suffering mental or physical health issues due to ‘chronic loneliness.’