Locals gathered at Trinity Church, Zeph's Café in Oadby to hear Neil O’Brien OBE, Conservative MP for Harborough, Oadby & Wigston, host a talk around the issue of loneliness in June.
Neil started off the conversation with some personal experiences explaining that loneliness doesn’t only affect the elderly.
He said: “Loneliness affects nine million people in the UK who say they are often or always lonely. My wife after having our child experienced loneliness. Social media technology is a potential tool to fight loneliness but it can make us feel lonely and isolated looking at the highlights of everybody’s lives.”
Trinity Church’s bid to tackle the problem really kicked off when Zeph’s Café’s Jim Gannon discovered ‘Chatter Natter’ tables, something Neil was keen to be involved in. The novel idea allows cafés to allocate Chatter Natter tables for people who come alone to sit together. It was coined by Alexandra Hoskyn (34) from Manchester who felt lonely after having a child.
Jim is a networker passionate about combating loneliness specifically for those diagnosed with dementia. In a heart felt speech he said: “We have a lot of people who come in [to Zeph’s] who are on their own… no longer. I’m getting emotional because everybody being here highlights all the things going on to help.”
Public Affairs Manager at British Red Cross Suzanne Foster, who worked with Jo Cox on her initial loneliness campaign idea, also attended the meeting. The British Red Cross, through its partnership with Co-op, has set up a Loneliness Action Group.
She said: “We find that people often experience loneliness in life transitions like becoming a mum, going through divorce or entering retirement.”
The Loneliness Action Group is using each month to highlight individual groups in society that experience loneliness such as men, refugees, the elderly, teenagers, and more. It is also offering 12 weeks training to people to pick up on the signs of loneliness triggers before they get to a stage when they find it hard to re-enter society.
Cllr Jeffrey Kaufman, Chairman of Community Engagement at Oadby & Wigston Borough Council, said: “It’s not only elderly people who are affected, it can be at any age – it’s the curse of our society. We want to target the hard to reach people.”
The number of charity representatives at the meeting highlighted how many groups and specialised funding schemes there are available to help combat loneliness but that so many go undetected.
There are many large institutes running specific groups concerning loneliness as well as many niche societies. Dementia Harborough, The Friendly Bench, Age UK, VASL, Helping Hands and many more organisations run groups for the lonely and isolated.
To finish off an inspirational meeting, Neil was asked to choose a piece of material to being the ‘loneliness scarf’. The scarf is an initiative started to raise awareness of the issue and is an extension of the Oadby Youth Centre Harmony Scarf that aims to have as many people add material to it that it will one day be long enough to wrap around the world.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing loneliness or isolation, contact one of the organisations below for help and advice.
A comprehensive list of representatives who attended the meeting offering a helping hand and volunteering positions: