‘All-encompassing’ loneliness reaches more than 40,000 people in Norfolk
PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 February 2018 | UPDATED: 10:28 24 February 2018
It has been described as an epidemic which affects more than 40,000 people in Norfolk alone.
But yesterday, more than 100 representatives from scores of organisations came together to try and tackle the issue of loneliness - a problem known only too well by millions of people country-wide.
Some nine million adults in the UK have reported feeling lonely, according to the Campaign to End Loneliness.
And in Norfolk a bid to ensure no one spends a day alone if they do not want to was launched 16 months ago by Norfolk County Council.
Now, the In Good Company campaign has grown in membership and yesterday brought more organisations into the fold.
Andy Nazer, campaign manager for the national Campaign to End Loneliness, kicked off the summit at Norwich’s Theatre Royal by explaining impact loneliness can have.
He said physically loneliness had the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
“There are people who are overwhelmed by loneliness,” he said. “Loneliness is all-encompassing and all around us. Here in Norfolk loneliness is particularly prevalent.”
It is estimated around 43,000 people in Norfolk are lonely and although much focus is on the elderly those with mental health issues, carers, children and families were also affected.
Eamon McGrath, from Age UK Norwich, told the summit one in five GP appointments for older people were simply because they wanted to speak to someone.
While Kevin Vaughn from Carers Matter Norfolk said when applied to Norfolk statistics suggested there could be 80,000 carers in the county who felt lonely.
Emma Broom and Jo Young, from Action for Children Norfolk, highlighted the story of 34-year-old Haley Minns from Hunstanton who felt alone as new mother.
She said: “I’d thought I would be at my happiest, but actually it was so hard. I couldn’t get out the house because I was so anxious.
A talk from Norwich and Central Norfolk Mind focussed on the loneliness mental ill health can bring.
Some 30 organisations were presented with an In Good Company Quality mark yesterday, as well as promises being made for each area of Norfolk to drive forward change including:
• Holding free get togethers for parents and children in Great Yarmouth and Waveney.
• Initiating a buddy scheme to share ideas in north Norfolk.
• Creating a community champion in south Norfolk to work with young people.
• People in west Norfolk promising to deliver 100 leaflets to publicise events tackling loneliness.
One scheme which gained the quality mark was social enterprise Friend in Deed.
Amongst other projects the organisation, under Kelly Lindsay, runs Little Visitors where mothers visit care homes with their babies and toddlers.
And for residents at Badgers Wood care home, in Drayton, loneliness is kept at bay through the scheme which encourages different generations to socialise.
Resident Maureen Oakley, 83, said: “It was lovely – I love children and babies. To talk to and share stories with the mothers was so lovely – I felt an equal.”
Pat MacKenzie, also 83, added: “I am full of admiration for this scheme. The elderly can become insular and inward looking, which can increase loneliness. Our Little Visitors from Friend In Deed show this doesn’t need to be the case. The parents and children joining us is a breath of fresh air, and reminds us that we are part of the wider community”.
For 87-year-old Bernard Martin the visit was “extremely cathartic”. He said: “The thought of being able to experience being young again – it definitely helps alleviate loneliness.”
While Dorothy Hoyes, 92, said: “It was magical to see the children’s faces light up when we played together. Mine probably lit up, too. This project supports us being part of the local community, not just older people in a care home.”
Hannah Smalley, 38, regularly takes her daughters nine-month-old Sybil and Clemmie, 4 to meet residents at Badgers Wood under the Little Visitors scheme.
She said: “I don’t have my granny anymore and she was so special to me. And to think there might be all these people sitting there without anyone, I just thought it was a lovely idea. You can see they are so happy to see and hold a child.”
Mrs Smalley, who lives with husband Chris in Old Catton, Norwich, said: “To think of the loneliness is really, really sad, because everyone is in their own little bubble. It’s new mums as well, you are up all night and on your own. When I moved to Norwich I had my firstborn and we didn’t know anyone else.
“Being on your own make you dwell on your problems so if you are tired and finding things difficult it makes things feel worse.”
But she said the scheme meant both new mothers and the elderly could socialise and enjoy the children.
‘At night is worst for me’
Simon Taylor, 34, nearly lost his business when he became mentally ill.
The self-employed roofer, from Attleborough, suffered from depression to the extent he attempted to take his own life. And although things have improved, he is still working towards recovery and loneliness is part of that battle.
He said: “At night is the worst for me. I’ve gone from someone who has been running their own business to having to stop that and now filling my days with something to occupy myself because I don’t like being alone.
“It’s easier during the day because people are about but at night when you go to bed it plays on your mind. They’re the times when I’ve been vulnerable or I’ve acted on my vulnerabilities.”
He said when he attempted to take his own life last year that had been at night when he was alone.
“But talking to someone usually helps,” he said. “For me if I had somewhere to go, not necessarily at night but in the early evening, to unwind or talk or do something to occupy my mind, it would help.”
‘It can be tough’
For Katie Manthorpe, caring for her mother can be an isolating experience.
The 17-year-old, who lives in Hellesdon and cares for mother Tracey who has MS, said: “For me, I come home from college and I don’t have much social time, you just have to be there and you can get quite bored and you can feel alone.”
Katie said she had friends she could talk to - and one particular friend’s mother was a carer so understood her position, but friends at college did not always know her situation.
“They haven’t experienced being a carer,” the Easton College student said. “So they don’t know and they get to do what they want, they have lots of time but I just get a few days every so often to go and do whatever I want. So it can be tough. But if you feel alone, talk to people, I can always ring up my best friend.”
• Katie is supported by the Transitions project at Norfolk Family Carers, which is Big Lottery funded and aims to help young adult carers reach their full potential.
• Friend in Deed is raising money to expand Little Visitors into the community. For more information or to donate click here.