“Life was very challenging. I ended up through the pandemic being on my own getting very, very lonely. Sometimes the phone wouldn’t ring for weeks and I wouldn’t see anybody at all.”
Sadly Mrs B’s experience of feeling lonely is more common than many of us might think. According to Age UK, half a million older people go at least five or six days a week without speaking to anyone at all.
There’s a complex mix of reasons for this growing social isolation, including the ongoing impact of COVID-19. It’s bad for our health and increases demand on our under pressure public services, particularly GPs and care.
The good news is Mrs B is no longer alone. Thanks to Kent County Council’s (KCC’s) Positive Wellbeing service she has re-gained her confidence and improved her physical fitness since suffering two strokes, and losing friends in the process, to make new ones.
Talking about her experience of being helped by the Positive Wellbeing service provided by Community Connectors, members of KCC’s Community Warden Team, she said: “You can get when you’re lonely in a very dark place. I could have let go. Now I am a lot more happy; my diary is full. I feel normal; worthwhile; I like myself.”
Now as the festive season approaches, KCC is urging over-65s feeling isolated not to suffer in silence and to reach out for support – or as Mrs B would say “to find somebody”.
Neighbours, family members and carers are also encouraged to think of people at this time of year who would benefit from a gift of Positive Wellbeing assistance.
The service is free and confidential, operating from 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday, in four areas of the county as we test and develop it with a view to expanding it across Kent.
There are currently highly-trained Community Connectors working to help over-65s to re-engage with their local area in:
- Maidstone – Shepway North and South wards
- Swale – Sheerness and Minster-on-Sea
- Folkestone and Hythe – including the wards of Folkestone Harbour, Folkestone East and Broadmead, and
- Thanet – in the Westgate-on-Sea area
You can check if the service operates where you live by entering your postcode in our online form or by calling 03000 42 20 65 (10am to 3pm, Monday to Friday). And if you live outside of these specific areas, you can contact KCC’s Community Warden Network which operates across the whole of Kent on 03000 41 34 55
So what does a Community Connector do?
Mandy Quy-Verlander, a Connector in Westgate, and a Community Warden for the Herne Bay area, explains: “We make time for people, starting with a private discussion about ways a person would like to reconnect, get active and rediscover a sense of purpose. Together, we then work up a personal action plan to guide them through their journey to re-engage socially.
“We also provide a range of assistance to give people confidence to make the next step and take part in local activities. It could be a simple phone call to help someone manage their anxiety or, depending on the situation with COVID restrictions, going with them to an art or cookery class for example.
“As wardens, we are very tapped into the support available for vulnerable and isolated people in our communities. Again, in line with any COVID restrictions, we can also set up activities if there are gaps in provision locally.
“It’s magical to see the positive affect making friends, discovering new interests or picking up an old hobby can make. As well as physical health improving, people’s mental health gets better, reducing the need for GP visits and other public services.”
Mike Hill, KCC’s Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services, said: “Taking care of one’s health involves more than just medicine. If you are over-65 and feeling alone, our dedicated Community Connectors and Wardens will support you as you build up self-belief and make new connections in your community.
“Maybe learn a new skill or try a new activity and achieve a better quality of life. Above all, don’t be lonely – get in touch.
”And if you know someone who would benefit from the Positive Wellbeing service please consider making the gift of a referral this Christmas.”
Notes to Editors:
- Information about KCC’s wider Community Warden network, which works to support residents in a wide range of ways, from guidance on accessing community services to helping report scammers, can be found here: www.kent.gov.uk/leisure-and-community/community-safety/community-wardens#contact-warden
- And here’s some videos to introduce you to Positive Wellbeing: What the Connectors say about the service and A cooking class set up by the connectors in Swale
- Further information about Social Prescribing can be found at www.socialprescribingnetwork.com and www.gov.uk/government/publications/social-prescribing-applying-all-our-health/social-prescribing-applying-all-our-health