Link Age Southwark: Helping older people feel better connected.
Photos by Anne-Marie Briscombe
There are a huge number of older people currently experiencing loneliness. Link Age Southwark are working to change this by arranging for younger people to visit older people on a regular basis; providing company and support. As well as 1-1 befriending services, they offer group activities and exercise classes, practical support, partnerships with local schools and some dementia services.
As a result of Link Age’s services, their older people say they feel less lonely, are better connected to their community, get out of the house more and feel better able to manage living in their own homes.
However, it's not only older people that experience loneliness; younger people are increasingly feeling it too. In fact, a YouGov poll from October 2019 showed nearly half of 18-24 year olds find it hard to make new friends and feel lonely as a result.
So then, could befriending be the perfect opportunity to find friendship somewhere you never thought to look?
If you have been thinking about how you can help, now may be a good time to get involved and provide support to the many older people in Southwark who need someone to talk to at this difficult time. Unfortunately due to Coronavirus they have had to adapt their approach and are offering telephone support only, which for some isolated people is more important now than ever.
I met two people who were introduced through Link Age - Kareema (76) and Frances (25), at Kareema’s home in Camberwell just before the outbreak to find out more about the impact of an intergenerational relationship on their lives and wellbeing.
How did you meet?
K: I got involved with Link Age and met some lovely people there who are nice and willing to look after me. They suggested befriending. In the first instance I was a bit skeptical, but when Frances came up, that was it! I just fell in love with her. She’s just like my grandchild.
F: When I was younger my mum used to do meals on wheels, so she’d drop food around to people who couldn’t make it themselves. That inspired me to look out for befriending. When I got to London I found Link Age and I liked that it was just Southwark based so it’s a nice local charity. They’re really lovely and friendly and always helpful people. I was put in contact with Kareema about a year and a half ago. I always look forward to it and I always come away with a big smile on my face whenever I’m leaving. It’s lovely.
What kind of activities do you do together?
K: When the weather is favourable we like to go out for a walk and watch TV.
F: Usually we catch up on the news. We debate about world happenings. I always get my news update from Kareema.
K: She talks about herself, her job and how she’s progressing. I ask her questions like I would ask my grandchild - ‘Have you been good?’ *laughs* Always yes!
F: Every now and then her daughter or granddaughter come round and it’s lovely to meet them and spend time with them. They’re so lucky to have her because she has so much love for everyone! She always makes me a little snack and a drink and then she packs me a little lunch box for the next day - it’s always healthy and good for me. I always have it at my desk the next day and think of her.
What do you feel you gain from the relationship?
K: I live in a shelter home. I have my flat and freedom but when she comes in it makes a lot of difference because we chat together and she helps here and there. I’m always looking forward to seeing her the following week. It’s a privilege.
F: It’s a privilege for me as well to hear about her life and as I don't have any family here it’s lovely to have a grandparent-y relationship with her and even when we’re not seeing each other sometimes we will text in the week... keeping an eye on each other.
What do you think is important about these programmes?
K: It helps to cheer you up. You don’t feel too stressed or too lonely. I look forward to having Frances around. It’s given me hope that a young lady is going to walk in, talk to me, give me a hug… then we chat. It makes a lot of difference.
F: I think it’s really important for young people to have contact with people who are a bit older and learn about their lives. I think intergenerational contact is really important. When we live in a world where everyone's in their own bubble. It’s really important to have connections outside of the normal daily life.
What does community mean to you?
K: I’ve not been all that outgoing. Most of the time I don’t go out. I get information about community from magazines. I wish I could do more but my mobility problems stop me. Since Winter I’ve not been able to go out a lot until Frances comes in and it gives me my life back. I think it’s worth getting involved in the community and I wish I could do more. I’m a Muslim so I go to the mosque on Friday and Sunday. Friday we pray in congregation and Sunday we go for lectures. It opens your eyes to the world.
F: For me it’s about making your home somewhere and having some kind of input into the community even if it’s small. Being able to walk down the street and bump into someone you know… just having someone around. London is such a big place. I have friends that live in the North and an hour away but to have someone a short bus ride away feels like community to me because you know they’re always going to be there just in case.
K: Taking pride in your environment, your community, your borough is very important.
F: London can be a really lonely place, even for young people. Sometimes I’ve felt it too. When you don’t know that many people, to have that weekly constant is something to really look forward to. I definitely felt that when I first started meeting Kareema.
If you know anyone who would benefit from befriending - young or old - you can find more information at www.linkagesouthwark.org