Two old ladies, we sit down to tea.
I’m 84 and she’s 83,
I hate her and she hates me,
But we are the only ones left you see.
We meet every Wednesday at half past three,
I go to her or she comes to me,
I bore her and she bores me.
But we are the only ones left you see.
A poem about loneliness
Loneliness is a big problem in the UK. People find themselves without homes, cut-off from their communities, or trying to build lives in new, unfamiliar places. At best, feeling lonely is unpleasant and upsetting. And at worst, social isolation can cause lasting damage; some studies suggest long term loneliness can be as harmful as smoking.
At Christmastime, it can seem like the issue becomes much worse. “We think about loneliness at Christmas because it’s a time that’s traditionally about coming together with friends and family, in a community. It throws social isolation into stark contrast,” explains Rachel Clare, Fundraising & Communications Manager at Choir with No Name.
FoodCycle’s Corporate Partnerships and Fundraising Events Manager, Miriam Emanuel, agrees. “At this time of year, the message is you should be spending time with friends and family Because of this, people are very aware of those who aren’t lucky enough to have people to spend the holidays with.”
But Rachel wants us to remember that social isolation and loneliness are problems all year round, not just at Christmas. “Socially isolated people will still be as isolated in January, Feb, March and beyond,” she says.
Because of this, our charity partners, Choir with No Name, FoodCycle and North London Cares have made it their mission to build communities that help socially isolated people all year round.
Singing the way to community
“We need to talk about loneliness more, to tackle it, to invest in it,” believes Rachel. She’s part of the Choir with No Name team who use the power of communal singing to fight off loneliness.
“A choir is the opposite of isolation,” Rachel says. ‘It’s all about coming together. It’s about shared experience and shared achievement, about singing as one. After all, you can’t have a choir on your own.”
The benefits of joining Choir with No Name are life-changing. Members become part of the “choir family”, feeling more connected to their community and building vital support networks. Becoming part of a community like this can give members more confidence to take on life’s biggest challenges, like finding work and housing.
None of it would be possible without volunteers. “Our volunteers have the chance to be an anchor of hope,” says Rachel. “They all offer a friendly ear for people who might not get to socialise or speak to anyone for the rest of the week. It’s incredibly life-affirming to see the positive impact the choir has on the most marginalised people in society.”
To celebrate their staff, members and volunteers, Choir with No Name went all-out this Christmas with a festive concert at historic Cadogan Hall. 220 choir members, from all four choirs, came together and sang all the Christmas hits — from Mariah Carey to The Pogues, with a little Slade in between. The choir has volunteering opportunities all year round, so get involved now and you may be part of the 2020 celebrations.
A bite to eat and good conversation
A community can be built in many ways. For FoodCycle, it’s about the simple pleasure of sitting down for a meal together. “For lots of people, eating is a way of socialising. If you don’t have the people to do that with, you can immediately become isolated,” Miriam explains.
Every week, FoodCycle brings people together to share food, conversation and experiences, taking surplus ingredients and turning them into nutritious, three-course meals. “We see a huge range of people,” says Miriam. “People with long-term health issues and low-income families. Older people who live by themselves, and young renters who don’t feel a sense of community.” And the positive impacts of the meals can be clearly seen.
“There’s a middle-aged gentleman who comes to FoodCycle in Manchester. He lives alone, and getting involved in his community gets him out of the house. He can have a meal and he’s made friends, who he always looks forward to seeing.”
It’s not just guests who benefit from getting involved with FoodCycle. “The reasons guests and volunteers attend can be very similar,” says Miriam. “Volunteers have their own challenges. Some struggle with unemployment, some are isolated themselves, so cooking and eating with our guests can be very beneficial. Other volunteers can learn skills, undergo training or gain experience by helping with projects like social media.”
Volunteers are essential to the running of FoodCycle, especially at Christmas. Some projects, like those in Manchester and Preswick, were open on Christmas Day to serve Christmas dinner. Others hosted a Christmas meal during the festive season. But the charity is committed to helping all year round and does so by serving guests in more than 40 locations around the UK. If you’d like to volunteer or find out more about FoodCycle, Miriam encourages you to go along to your local FoodCycle for a meal. “It’s one of the best ways to learn about FoodCycle and see its impact.”
Bridging the generations
In a busy, fast-paced city like London, it’s easy for older people to feel disconnected from their communities. The same goes for younger people in the city, who move around so much that they sometimes miss the chance to get to know their neighbours. That’s where North London Cares comes in. “We’re a charity that connects older and younger people in Camden and Islington,” explains Imogen, the charity’s Development Coordinator.
To do this, North London Cares runs social clubs and events to connect people who wouldn’t otherwise meet, including midsummer parties, podcasting workshops, ‘pub clubs’ and silent discos; the Love Your Neighbour programme, which matches isolated, elderly people who can’t leave their homes with younger neighbours; and the Winter Wellbeing outreach programme, visiting local homes to offer isolated people warm items.
Through the charity’s activities, Imogen has seen deep friendships formed. “We matched two ladies, Mandy and Jessica, through Love Your Neighbour. Jessica is the younger neighbour, and when she first moved to the UK from France, she didn’t know anyone. Mandy, the older neighbour, was Jessica’s first friend. Without her, Jessica said she would’ve felt much lonelier. There’s so much value in having a one-to-one connection you can rely on like this.”
“What I think North London Cares does well is that there’s something for everyone,” Imogen continues. “If you want to meet lots of new people you can join as many clubs as you want. If you want to form deep relationships, there’s Love Your Neighbour. Our members have said that it’s a great distraction from the stresses of life. You come, have a cup of tea, have a dance, do a quiz.”
Volunteers play a big part, but they get as much out of it as they put in. “It’s mutually beneficial,” says Imogen. “Our volunteers say it doesn’t feel like volunteering. It’s just like meeting up with old friends. And it’s a great way to make friends and push yourself outside your comfort zone by talking to people you wouldn’t normally meet.” If you’d like to learn more about your local community, you can volunteer to help with any of the North London Cares programmes throughout the year.
Not just for Christmas
“We are proud to support charities which help reduce loneliness, not just at Christmas but all year round,” says Louise Skinner, Programme Manager at Octopus Giving. “Octopus people are so generous, giving their time to help our charities and the people they support. Our volunteers get a heightened sense of wellbeing and community from knowing they’ve helped someone who may otherwise have been isolated. Plus, many of our volunteers have told me how much they get out of volunteering, from learning new skills to making new friends.”
If you’re thinking about volunteering, there’s no time like the present. “Keep it local,” recommends Rachel. “There’s so much going on. Go into your local volunteering service and find out how you can help.” Don’t forget, isolation is a big problems. Your support could change the life of someone who is struggling with loneliness.