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An Independent Social Affairs Magazine

Supported by

Issue 41, 2016


Loneliness – a silent epidemic

VIEW, Issue 41, 2016


he story of an 89-year-old man who found a job after placing an advert in his local paper asking for part-time work to stop him “dying of boredom” has touched the hearts of many who read and heard about it. Joe Bartley, from Paignton, south Devon, is due to start work at a cafe in the town after the owners of the family-run business spotted his request. Joe had put an advert in his local paper which read: “Senior citizen, 89, seeks employment in Paignton area. 20 hours plus per week. Still able to clean, light gardening, DIY and anything. I have references. Old soldier, airborne forces. By Brian Pelan Save me from dying of boredom!” Co-founder,VIEWdigital He said he had lived alone since his wife, Cassandra, died two years ago, and room on their own and perhaps not having had been lonely. “When you live on your anyone to talk to for days on end. This own there is no one to speak to. Since she issue of VIEW looks at the subject of died I’ve moved into a flat and it’s a big loneliness and social isolation and efforts block. Once you walk into that flat it’s like to combat it. solitary confinement,” he said. We are delighted to have the support Whilst there has been a happy end to of Age NI in producing this publication. Joe’s story his experience is not unique. A They and a number of other organisations lot of older people live alone in towns and have been doing great work to highlight cities throughout the UK. Many of them loneliness and have launched a series of will experience the situation of sitting in a

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initiatives to tackle it. I was delighted to speak to Olympic gold medal winner Mary Peters. It was a pleasure to talk to her and hear her views on loneliness and why we as a society need to care more about each other. I’m also grateful to Age NI chief executive Linda Robinson. She responded very positively when I contacted her to see if she would be interested in supporting a VIEW issue about loneliness. The idea of tackling this subject first came about after I watched a BBC documentary called The Age of Loneliness. Film-maker Sue Bourne said it’s a major public health issue. “A silent epidemic that's starting to kill us. But we don’t want to talk about it. No-one really wants to admit they are lonely.” If we are fortunate with our health we will all grow old and thus we all have an investment in ensuring that it is the best we can create. Unfortunately, at a time of austerity, social conditions have worsened for many of us, including older people. As journalists,VIEW will continue to write about this issue and other pressing social affairs subjects.

Regulated by IMPRESS, the independent monitor for the press. Contact IMPRESS at

Editorial VIEW, Issue 41, 2016


y first role in Age NI was to set up a Day centre 29 years ago. I remember the dismay I felt after leaving a client, Anne, home to a rural location. She told me that she most likely would not have another conversation until I picked her up the next week. Sadly, with an ageing population and more people living alone, Age NI hears similar stories every day. Our research tells us that loneliness is having a profound influence on the physical and mental health of many older people in Northern Ireland. One in three of them tell they ‘sometimes or always’ feel lonely; around 100,000 say TV is their main form of company and over 30,000 feel trapped in their own homes. Reflecting on this, the key question is what are we all doing about this? Age NI is delighted to be partnering with VIEW to shine this spotlight on how we in Northern Ireland and across the rest of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland are approaching this issue of loneliness. We have gathered a range of thought provoking perspectives which include: the Commissioner for Older People, Mary Peters OBE, leading academics, public health experts, authors, local council leads, health and social care experts, plus older and younger people, who tell us about their personal experience of loneliness. Descriptions such as: ‘soul lacerating’, a ‘public health challenge’, an ‘epidemic’, ‘the biggest hurdle of all’, demonstrate that the focus on loneliness has never been more to the fore.

VIEW, an independent social affairs magazine in Northern Ireland


By guest editor Linda Robinson, Chief Executive, Age NI

Our research tells us that loneliness is having a profound influence on the physical and mental health of many older people in Northern Ireland

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Examples of progressive responses to redress loneliness are showcased such as: the new Living Well partnership in Moyle, Belfast Strategic Partnership’s use of data mapping to highlight isolation and loneliness in the city; the Bogside and Brandywell’s social prescribing project; the Arts and Older People programme and the BBC/Age NI Playing our Part Campaign. Additionally, the role of age friendly cities, volunteering initiatives such as My Life My Way and Alone’s national befriending scheme in the Republic represent new structural mechanisms to help combat loneliness. While thankfully, there appears to be interest in tackling loneliness; what remains to be seen is whether there is strong enough commitment, integrated enough, and/or resourced enough? Concern is expressed at the lack of specific references to older people, loneliness or isolation in the draft Programme for Government (PfG). The need to treat loneliness as a public health issue, requiring a joined up approach involving a number of government departments, including Communities, Infrastructure, as well as the Department of Health, and the allocation of adequate resources for services and support has also been emphasised. Age NI is calling for collaboration across the Northern Ireland Executive and local government, health and social care commissioners and service providers, philanthropists, the community and voluntary sector, academics, friends, family and neighbours to deliver a co-ordinated ‘whole systems approach’ to tackling loneliness. Let’s fight loneliness together.

VIEW, Issue 41, 2016

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the BIG interview B


VIEW editor Brian Pelan puts a series of questions to Eddie Lynch, The Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland, about his role and his plans to raise a number of pressing issues, including addressing loneliness

rian Pelan: Question: Your predecessor in the post, Claire Keatinge, said in her final report: “I am convinced that our politicians believe that they want Northern Ireland to be a great place to age. Yet I remain frustrated by the lack of decisive action which is required by Government to introduce the legislation, services and policy that would create the certainty that today’s and tomorrow’s older people need and deserve.” Has the situation improved for older people since you took up your position?

Eddie Lynch: Answer: Much of my early days in the post have been looking at the Programme for Government (PfG). Given that it’s a key document for the next five years I’ve been extremely disappointed by the lack of focus on older people. One of the great news stories of our generation is that we are living longer but it also brings challenges for government. The current PfG, as it sits, is not one that is going to support an ageing population.

Q: Does the Department of Communities adequately fund you to cover your role?

A: Our organisation was set up at a time of austerity and it took it a while to get it fully operational.One of the things that I’m keen to pursue is that we have the resources we need to properly tackle all of

Older people find themselves lonely for a range of reasons. I think we need to support them to remain active for as long as possible the issues being raised by older people. I feel we would require an increase in our budget to cope with the level of issues being raised.

Q: Do you feel that Government listens to your advice. Are they under any obligation to implement your recommendations?

A: They don’t have to do what I recommend, but they do have to respond

and give reasons about why they are not doing it. Since my time in office I have been well received by ministers and have held a number of meetings with them. Q: How many investigations is your office currently carrying out.

A: We have very strict criteria in accepting individual cases as we have a duty under our legislation not to duplicate the work of any other organisation. At the moment we have well over 100 live cases. One of the big issues is the financial abuse of older people. Q: What are you doing to address the issue of loneliness amongst older people.

A: I think that loneliness is a major issue. This has gradually become a bigger problem for older people. Twenty or 30 years ago there was a much closer family network and closer-knit communities. That has changed as people’s families are now living all over the world. Also, there is lots of research coming out which shows how serious the issue is. Some research has shown that loneliness has as much impact on your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And if you are very lonely you are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as someone who isn’t. I think we need to create the conditions in society that will come up with a suite of options which are aimed at supporting older people in later life,

VIEW, Issue 41, 2016


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Eddie Lynch: Older people want to receive as much support as possible in their own homes Older people find themselves lonely for a range of reasons and there is not one solution to it. But I think we need to support them to remain active for as long as possible. Initiatives like the bus pass are a fantastic way of keeping older people active and out and about. I am a huge advocate of the bus pass and I believe it should be a universal pass because it brings about huge benefits for wider society. I would strongly resist any move to bring in a means test for those who receive it. Q: Are older people adequately looked after if they fall ill.

A: The Minister for Health has just outlined a 10-year reform plan. There seems to be a consensus that change needs to happen in providing health and social care. One of the things that the minister has outlined is a move to provide more care in the community and more of a focus on preventive care; that’s something which I support. Most older people that I speak to want to receive as much care and medical support as possible in their own homes. My focus is to ensure that quality of care is adequate.

Q: How secure is the future for older people who are living in residential care.

A: We work very closely with the the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA), on the issue. Obviously, the quality of care for older

I think that the Programme for Government, which is being consulted on at the moment, has to prioritise older people to a higher level

people in nursing and residential homes is an area of key concern to me. We will work very closely with the RQIA about any issues that are raised to us by older people or their families. We have investigated a number of cases. One issue regarding residential homes that I am concerned about is tenancy arrangements. It’s unacceptable that if you have made a complaint and raised concerns about quality of care that you could be threatened with eviction.

Q: Has there been an improvement in crime detection rates of perpetrators of crimes against older people being arrested, charged and convicted.

A: The reality is that older people are still less likely to have crimes against them resolved than other age groups. I have brought this issue to the PSNI and the Policing Board and we now have targets to try and address this. One of the pieces of work that my office has been carrying out is doing research on older people who have been victims of crime. Q: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future for older people, especially those surviving on a low budget at a time of austerity?

A: I’m always an optimist, but I’m still very concerned that there needs to be more focus on our ageing population. I think that the Programme for Government, which is being consulted on at the moment, has to prioritise older people to a much higher level. I hope that the Government is listening to what we are saying.

Q: What’s the most frustrating aspect of your job. A: In this area of work you would like to get things done a lot quicker. Even when you get progress on things it still takes a lot of time. Although I think that is the nature of the policy world, these things just don’t happen overnight

VIEW, Issue 41, 2016

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Olympic gold medal winner Mary Peters talks to VIEW editor Brian Pelan about loneliness and why we need to try and care for each other more VIEW, Issue 41, 2016

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ary Peters, Olympic gold meda winner and an ambassador for sports and numerous charity initiatives, would be a regular front-runner if there was a yearly award for being charming and gracious. In 1972, the year she won her gold medal at the Munich Olympics, I was 16 years of age. I can recall the fevered atmosphere in Belfast as Mary, aboard a vehicle, was driven down Royal Avenue. I thought it was an open top bus, but Mary swiftly corrected me, with an infectious laugh, to remind me that it was a lorry. The front room of her house is bedecked with numerous images, including one of her meeting the late South African leader Nelson Mandela. Mary offered me a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit, saying that “men can’t resist them”. She was right. The first question I put to her was: “What do you think now when you hear the phrase, ‘golden girl’ to describe your Olympic gold medal success.” “I still get a little glow,” she replied. “It never goes away unless you are a cheat. Because Northern Ireland was going through such a bad time in 1972 it brought some good news and I’m still celebrating it 44 years on. I wondered did she think about growing older and what life might be like for her during those exhilarating days? “I don’t think you ever do,” said Mary. It’s like I never imagined what life would be like if I won an Olympic gold medal. It only hits you when it happens to you. Old age comes on more quickly than you ever imagined it will. “I don’t feel old but I know I am. I’m 77 years of age. When I hit my 77th birthday, I said ‘wow’. But I still feel as if I’m 21 although I can’t do the things now that I could when I was that age. I was interested in her views on loneliness given that’s it’s an issue that impacts on a lot of older people. Mary was forthright and honest in her reply. “I think it more pertinent at this time of year as we head towards Christmas. My family are all in Australia. I’ve no relatives in Ireland because my dad brought us here when I was 11 years of age. So it can be a very lonely time because you are far away from family and you are never a part of anyone else’s family no matter how kind or generous that people are. “I tend to run away at Christmas and stay with friends outside of Northern Ireland because it would be lonely home alone. “I’m also conscious of other people who might be lonely. I always take my

Mary Peters with a picture of family members who are in Australia Images: Kevin Cooper

I don’t feel old but I know I am. I’m 77 years of age. When I hit my 77th birthday, I said ‘wow’

phone book with me so I can ring people around Christmas. “I don’t ever really feel lonely because I know there are friends at the end of a phone. Although you can be lonely even though you are busy.You’re in the buzz of all the exciting things you do and then you come home and you’ve nobody to tell the story to. I’m also sad because my mum died around Christmas time. It’s a long, long time ago but I still have memories of her.” I was interested to hear Mary’s view on the broader issue of loneliness and social isolation. “I always have a positive attitude. I meet people and say ‘let’s have a chat’. I would never say to them: ‘Are you lonely?’ I know that some people I meet may be lonely but I would never raise it is as a subject. “Is that because there is a bit of a stigma attached to loneliness,” I asked.

“No,” said Mary. “I just think that some people don’t want to realise how lonely they are. “There was a story I told at a Silver Line conference (the service provides a befriending service to older people). “There was a lady in a health club I was at. As I passed her I touched her arm and said ‘how are you today?’ She started to cry and it was like the advert on television which said ‘Nobody asked me how I was’. “She said: ‘It’s a sad day but you don’t need to know about it. And I said; ‘Oh, I do’. She told me that 12 years ago that her husband had died and she wanted to go to his grave but had nobody to go with. “I said: ‘Get your coat’ and we went. “I also realised that she was very depressed and I got her to go and speak to a counsellor. “She came into the gym sometime later and she was smiling. I hadn’t seen her smiling in a long time. “ We all need to tell people that we love them and we are proud of them. “My advice to people who feel lonely is to join a club whether it’s dancing, swimming, talking or reading. Anything that gets them to communicate with other people.” “I think that’s why organisations like Age NI are so important in helping older people. We have all got to learn to care more about each other.” Throughout the entire interview, Mary was relaxed and charming. I left her house with a ‘little glow”. I think she has that impact on everyone she meets. We are fortunate to have her.

VIEW, Issue 41, 2016

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Professor Gerry Leavey, left, Director of the Bamford Centre for Mental Health and Well Being at Ulster University with Professor Vanessa Burholt, the director of the Centre of Innovative Ageing in Wales; Roger O’Sullivan, Interim Chief Executive of the Institute of Public Health; and Sean Moynihan, Chief Executive of ALONE in the Republic of Ireland Image: Jim Corr Photography

Professor: It’s essential that loneliness is treated as a key public health issue

A guy needs somebody- to be near him. I tell ya," he cried, “I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick.” Professor Brian Lawlor from Trinity College Dublin quoted from John Steinbeck’s classic novel ‘Of Mice and Men’, at the recent Loneliness and Ageing: A Public Health Issue seminar in Belfast. “It is essential loneliness is recognised as a key public health issue. It is not just a feeling of isolation; sustained loneliness can have a profound influence on physical and mental well being. “Older people who are lonely are more likely to have poor health; at higher risk of developing dementia and are more likely to visit their local doctor or A&E,” he said. He was among several experts who spelt out how chronic loneliness can have a negative impact on your health and it can affect people at any age. Chronic loneliness affects about 10 per cent of older people, the seminar heard with Professor Vanessa Burholt, the director of the Centre of Innovative Ageing

By Una Murphy

in Wales outlining some of the structural barriers which can stop older people fully engaging in wider society and becoming lonely. She said that stigma, embarrassment and shame; forgetting peoples’ names, not remembering your PIN number at an ATM, difficulty reading bus timetables can lead to cognitive impairment which stops social relationships. Her research has found that where there are greater levels of cognitive impairment there are greater levels of loneliness. Migrants and gay older people may in particular be subject to loneliness in older age, Professor Burholt added. Loneliness in migrant communities can be due to the importance in a collectivist culture of having younger family members around and this not happening in their new country of residence, she said. Older gay people who had faced discrimination during their lifetimes could be lonely due to discrimination or

prejudice which has hampered social relations. Some gay partners are not given the same rights in care settings such as residential homes, she added. Professor Gerry Leavey, Director of the Bamford Centre for Mental Health and Well Being at Ulster University, said: “It is a mistake to think of all older people as lonely. Loneliness can occur from time to time, at a particular stage in life or associated with specific events such as widowhood or retirement – for those who experience it we need to ensure it is recognised as a public health issue.” Professor Roger O’Sullivan, Interim Chief Executive of the Institute of Public Health, said: “What this event highlights is the importance of understanding the type, causes and consequences of loneliness among older people and the groups most at risk when considering the appropriate intervention. “Loneliness is often out of sight but Christmas is a time when relationships are so important and it comes to the fore of people’s thoughts.”

VIEW, Issue 41, 2016

Above: Trinity College Dublin Professor Brian Lawlor addressing the seminar

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Image: Jim Corr Photography

Siobhan Sweeney, left, Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement Manager (West) in the Public Health Agency and Kellie Payne from Campaigning to End Loneliness

VIEW, Issue 41, 2016

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Sound of laughter

Justine and Anne at Anna House in Dunmurry

VIEW editor Brian Pelan was gently upstaged when he spoke to a group of older people who attend a day centre outside Belfast


t’s not often that I am serenaded with Vera Lynn’s classic song The White Cliffs of Dover by a woman called Vera. The poignant moment occurred during my visit to Anna House Day Centre in Dunmurry, outside Belfast, which is run by Age NI. I was met on arrival at the centre by manager Gillian Thompson. She explained that I would be talking to a group of older people who use the centre’s facilities on a regular basis. As a journalist and editor, I have had to do a lot of public speaking, but this was the first time in my career that I would be addressing around 18 people all of whom were older than me. The group proved to be sharp, witty and full of strong insights on life and all that it brings in its wake. I asked them how would they describe the idea of loneliness if they were asked. One woman said: “It’s being on your own and not seeing anyone day to day. A bit of silence descended on the group till I remarked: “This is like a quiz

Singer: Vera

except there are no wrong answers.” A man called Samuel spoke about how his wife was in a nursing home and that he had been on his own for about two years. He had spent 23 years of his working life in British Telecom. He said that he left that job when computers were introduced. “My brain couldn’t take it in.” Overall the group had contrasting views on the internet and computer technology. Some of them dabbled in it

whilst others expressed their lack of knowledge. I was pleased to discover though that the majority of the group were willing to have a go at learning if the technology devices were given to them and if they had a teacher. One lady spoke of how much she enjoyed it when the group was able to interact with younger people. When I told them that I was 60 years of age, one of them shouted: “You’re only a child.” There was a huge cry of affirmation when I asked about book readers in the group. Quite a few of the women spoke about favourite authors they enjoyed and others told of their love for romantic novels. The individual characteristics of the group were very strong and their sense of humour was undiminished by time. The session came to end with Vera singing to me. I was moved by the whole experience. We sometimes ignore the older generation and yet they have so much to teach us about life and living.

VIEW, Issue 41, 2016

Una, left, and Gillian Thompson, Age NI Day Centre manager

Right: the group of older people at Anna House and below, Harry and Sammy Both images by Kevin Cooper

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COMMENT VIEW, Issue 41, 2016


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Befriending is a powerful tool


Sean Moynihan, Chief Executive of ALONE in the Republic of Ireland, says volunteers from the organisation provide weekly visits to more than 500 older people who are experiencing loneliness

here are many issues that can have a negative impact on you as you age, chronic health problems and loss of mobility are all massive hurdles, but in the main work that ALONE have been doing for 40 years to support older people who are struggling with loneliness, we see that loneliness can be the biggest hurdle of all. ALONE are a national organisation whose core objective is to help older people to age at home. As well as befriending, we provide housing and support co-ordination, giving practical support to older people to help them access services from health to housing. Currently our fully trained and police vetted volunteers visit and support over 500 older people weekly helping them to combat the negative effects of loneliness on their health, wellbeing and their physical environment . Over 40 percent of our referrals come from older people themselves reaching out for support. As an organisation we are working hard to have befriending seen as a health issue and we are leading a national campaign in this area by founding Befriending Network Ireland which has 48 member organisations. ALONE has the only quality standard in the Republic in befriending and in volunteer support and we supply training, knowledge and staff back up to all these groups. In 2015 there was over 4,500 volunteers involved and it is growing at 15-20 percent a year. The effects of loneliness are many and far reaching. It can have a negative impact on cardiovascular health, increase a feeling of depression, functional decline, dementia and even increased mortality, with 32 per cent of those people living alone who experience loneliness dying earlier than those who do not. Befriending is a low-cost, powerful preventative tool to help alleviate those

We are also encouraging everyone to think of the older people living in their community by asking them to take a little time to call in say hello and check they have enough food, medication and heat

detrimental health problems associated with loneliness and also the financial burden they bring to both community and State. In our 40 years of experience we have learned that you must back up befriending services with staff support to deal with the complex issues and the need for practical supports that comes from working with vulnerable adults. The role of befriending really comes to the fore in the winter months and Christmas in particular can be a very difficult time for older people. One in three of the people accessing ALONE services will spend Christmas day on their own. We firstly making sure that those older people we support are receiving a befriending visit or call and our volunteers will be distributing over 500 hampers and 150 Christmas dinners over the festive period. Secondly we are reaching out to all older people living alone to encourage them to ask for help they deserve whether it’s to friends, family, the community or ALONE and the befriending network. We are also encouraging everyone to think of the older people living in their community by asking them to take a little time to call in say hello, check they have enough food, medication and heat, and company. Small gestures of support mean so much to an older person living on their own. Our aim is to ensure that all older people who need it have access to quality approved befriending service that combats loneliness and helps to keep older people linked into the community. This service needs to be backed up and supported by support co-ordination services that bring the power of the community to support older people to age at home for as long as they wish.

• For further information or to help Alone support older people living alone please go to

VIEW, Issue 41, 2016

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‘Together we can bring about a better future for us all as we age’


ge NI’s No One Should Have No-One campaign highlights the loneliness that thousands of older people are facing and what we can all do as individuals, friends, family and neighbours to combat loneliness. “One third of older people in Northern Ireland tell us that they feel lonely, but as we all know, statistics only tell one part of the story,” said Linda Robinson, Age NI Chief Executive. “It’s not until you hear directly from older people about the severity of the isolation and loneliness that they are feeling that it really hits home.” Linda added: “Loneliness is a very personal experience and can be triggered by so many of life’s challenges and changes. “Most of us can remember a time when we felt a bit down and someone was there to help us – a family member, a friend, a neighbour. “It’s amazing the difference that a kind word or a visit from an individual can make to someone who is feeling sad and alone. “However, while we can all individually help older people in our lives who are feeling lonely, it will take widespread c ollaboration to deliver a ‘whole systems approach’ to ensure that No-one has no-one in Northern Ireland. “Age NI will do whatever it takes in this collaboration to end loneliness in later life here in Northern Ireland,” said Linda. “With in excess of 115,000 engagements per year with older people, we are well placed to find out from older people what matters to them “This however, must be led from the top and Age NI agrees with the Commissioner for Older People’s

MLAs listening to the voice of older people and the Age Sector at an All Party Group on Ageing and Older People

statement that ‘the Programme for Government has to specify clear outcomes which will enhance the wellbeing of older people and make real improvements to their quality of life. “Promising Approaches’, led by the Campaign to End Loneliness team and our sister organisation Age UK, provides a blueprint for targeted, complementary and joined-up approaches. “While we have much more to do to improve the gateway support provided to older people, particularly around our transport and technology infrastructure, there are many examples of good practice which are reaching out to older people and delivering targeted interventions which mobilise community and neighbourhood assets, for example through volunteering and positive ageing. “It is important that these activities are sustainable and that we continue to evaluate what works if we are to be effective in our commitment to combat the

loneliness and isolation experienced by older people “I know that the Public Health Agency is already gathering information on what services are and are not available to support older people experiencing isolation and loneliness. “Also the move by some of the Councils towards developing Age Friendly communities is another critical component in the fight to combat loneliness with our age sector networks ideally placed to partner this work. “A more concerted, co-ordinated effort will be required if we want to seriously tackle and prevent the harm caused to individuals and our society through loneliness and isolation. “By involving older people, by sharing our learning and expertise, and by collaborating with each other we can make a difference. “Together we can bring about a better future for us all as we age.”

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• Our Freephone Advice and Advocacy service supports more than 10,000 older people, their carers and families every year

What Age NI Is Doing

Age NI delivers a range of services to older people, their friends and families who are experiencing loneliness and uses the evidence from these interventions to influence local and regional policy and decision-making. Support for Individual Older People

• Through our First Connect Service, we provide individual one-to-one care to 500 plus older people per year who are isolated and cut off from friends, family and their community. We support them to reconnect. • Our Freephone Advice and Advocacy service supports more than 10,000 older people, their carers and families every year. • Our 14 Day Centres, Domiciliary Care Team and Residential Home provide care, comfort and support for over 1200 older people. Capacity Building Support for Age Network

• Our Age Sector Development Team supports 11 sub regional networks across NI to improve planning and delivery of services for older people locally. Some of these networks are delivering on the ground services such as Good Morning schemes and Handy Van services which connect older people and build friendships. They are also linked into local government and local groups to ensure that the voice of older people is loud and clear. Innovative Approaches

• Living Well comprises a partnership between Age NI and the local community, GPs, Council and Health and Social care organisations (HSCB / NHSCT / PHA) in the Moyle area. This is a multi-disciplinary approach focussed on reconnecting people with community activity to increase their sense of wellbeing. • Our My Life My Way service, funded by Big Lottery, enables 57 volunteers to support 513 older people who are living with the loneliness that a dementia diagnosis can bring to live life their way. • Our Expert Age Volunteers listen to older people’s views on the issues that matter to us all: Health, Poverty, Social Inclusion and Citizenship; and inform key stakeholders such as. Health and Social Care, Local Councils, Universities and Government. Policy and Influencing

• Our policy and influencing team provides thought leadership, evidence-based research and consultation responses to influence the planning and development of policies and strategies for older people. • It also provides secretariat support to the All Party Group on Ageing and Older People to: ensure that the issues affecting older people are a priority for the NI Assembly; that Assembly policies prepare Northern Ireland for an ageing society; and, to encourage that MLAs hear the voice of the the age sector and older people themselves.

Independence when you want it, help when you need it.

The Age NI Personal Alarm* service gives you independence and your family peace of mind. To arrange a no-obligation demonstration** visit: Age NI 10 College Street Belfast BT1 6BT (Open 9am – 5pm Monday - Friday)

0808 100 4545 45 45

call or visit

Age NI Personal Alarms are provided by Aid-Call Limited. **Demonstration does not apply if you buy online and Self-Connect. Personal Alarms are provided by Aid-Call Limited, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority for Consumer Credit. Financial Services Register number 707455. *Age NI Personal Alarms is a product name of, and provided by, Aid-Call Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Age UK (registered charity number 1128267). Registered address: Tavis House, 1-6 Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9NA. A3061V5FEB16

A man, his TV and quietness VIEW, Issue 41, 2016

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John Francis Ruddy tells VIEW editor Brian Pelan that he never imagined that one day he would be sitting alone in his apartment with just a drink and TV soaps to keep him company


aindrops began to fall on a bitterly cold day in Belfast. I was standing outside a block of flats in north Belfast waiting for pensioner John Francis Ruddy to let me in. John, who lives by himself in sheltered accomodation, had kindly agreed to be interviewed for the VIEW issue on loneliness. I got a surprise when he appeared wearing a short-sleeved shirt and bahama-style shorts in weather, that could accurately be described in Belfast parlance, as baltic. John is sixty-five years of age and has been living in his flat since September. His wife Mary died at 42 years of age. They had four children – one of them, a son, tragically took his own life in 2010. “My wife fell down the stairs and suffered a brain haemorrhage. She also lost several members of her own family to cancer.” We were chatting in his small living room. Besides his television and some basic furniture, the room felt empty. I noticed a number of memorial cards on a table. They were all for people that John had known. He has been living on his own for a number of years. At his previous address in Belfast, he said he preferred to sit upstairs as “the noise outside my downstairs front room was too loud from the street outside. The roof also leaked and I had little heating.” He freely admits to enjoying a drink. John said that it helps him to cope with his life now. “On an average week – from Sunday to the next Sunday, I would spend most of the time on my own. “I just sit by myself, have a quiet drink and watch the TV.” He found it hard to describe the thoughts which go through his mind as he sits in the room. “I just watch TV.” The television obviously plays a big part in John’s life. His recollections about his life were hazy but he was able to describe in perfect detail the programme which was playing in the background. “That’s Bonanza and that’s Little Joe and ‘Hoss’ Cartwright,” he said – referring to characters in a TV western series which ran from 1959 to 1973.”

He goes out occasionally, he said, for “a bit of a sing-song and a few drinks.” John started off working as a motor mechanic. “I was only getting £12 a week so I moved into the bar game. I worked everywhere and anywhere. I didn’t care.” I asked John did he ever think that he would end up sitting alone in a flat. “No. That was the last thing that I was thinking about,” he replied. He smiled a lot as he showed me family photographs and was able to describe who was who in great detail. John also said that he liked to cook. “Stewing steak and potatoes is my favourite meal.” His sheltered accommodation houses a large number of people, but John said he knows only a few of his neighbours. He said he also reads very little. “I used to read cowboy books that my father give me when I was a child. I don’t even read newspapers now.” I asked John was he aware of who had won the US presidential election?

John Ruddy in his flat in north Belfast

“I haven’t a clue and I don’t care,” he defiantly replied. It was oddly refreshing and strange to hear this. In the midst of many in the world discussing at great length Donald Trump’s rise to power, John had no hesitation in telling me that he had absolutely no interest in it. “I just like to watch TV soaps, it helps me to pass the time. Loneliness to me means quietness.” As our interview drew to a close, I put John’s son memorial card back on a table. “Do you think about him often,” I asked. John looked at me intently and said nothing for a few seconds. Then tears suddenly started to fall down his face. We sat together in that small room as John gently wept about the loss of his son in tragic circumstances. I switched my tape recorder off. About 10 minutes later, I was back outside in the cold with my head full of thoughts about John and his life.

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Roy enjoys a new zest for life


By Brian Pelan

eventy-year-old Roy Beck is enjoying a new lease of life with the Men’s Shed movement. He has been living in sheltered accommodation in Crumlin for the last three years since the death of his wife Audrey. They had been married for 45 years. “She was everything to me,” said Roy. “The Lord took her home and she is at peace now. We had never really talked about one of us being on our own. We had hoped to reach 50 years of marriage but it wasn’t to be. “When you find yourself on your own you don’t know what way to turn. I would urge older people not to cut themselves off from other people. The boredom of being on your own will get to you eventually. And also if people don’t see you out and about

they may forget about you,” added Roy. “A good friend of mine called Caroline was a great help. She got in touch with Age NI, who helped me, along with a social worker, to move into my present home in Crumlin. Roy, who had worked as a landscape gardener, was also put in touch with a Men’s Shed group in Antrim. “The first time I saw their greenhouse I was hooked.” “It has given me a new zest for life. I’m able to show other men how to look after plants.” Roy urged older people who may find themselves experiencing loneliness to take the “first step by seeking help”.

• For more information contact the Men’s Shed Project Coordinator: Eoin McAnuff at

Roy Beck at his flat in Crumlin Image: Kevin Cooper

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‘It enriches my life’

Enthusiastic: Charlotte Cahill has urged more people to consider volunteering

Charlotte Cahill describes in her own words why she loves visiting older people in their own homes as part of the My Life My Way project


came across an advertisement in a magazine or newspaper asking for volunteers to visit older people with early dementia in their homes. The My Life My Way project, run by Age NI, provides support to older people with dementia and their carers in the Belfast and Northern Trust areas: It has 57 Age NI volunteers 3,145 interventions And 100% of people feeling supported emotionally by it. I think because of the nature of the work that I carry out in retail I am used to chatting to customers all the time. I like to believe I am a people person and I have always enjoyed interacting with others. I had also just completed a counselling course and somehow the idea of working with older people seem to surface in my mind. I have been doing the volunteer visits for two years now. I do it once a fortnight because once a week may be too much in

terms of possible dependancy issues. I visit two women for about one and a half hours. Both of them are in their own homes and are aged in their mid-80s. From the very start, it felt quite natural. Both women were also not shy or reticent about talking to me. We mainly chat about their memories. They talk a lot about their childhood.They don’t tend to speak about when they were an adult. I always try to encourage them to go further down memory lane. If they start talking about their father in the kitchen, I will ask them to describe the kitchen. “Oh you had a parlour, what did your mum and dad have in the parlour?” Techniques like that. The subject of loneliness comes up sometimes. One of the ladies described falling asleep on the settee in her house and not being able to remember how long she has been asleep. “It might be because I’m lonely,” she said.

It’s not really on anyone’s radar what life might be like for us when we get older. No one wants to really acknowledge what we might be doing 20 or 30 years down the road. One of the women I visit always says at the end. “Thank you for visiting.You are a good friend to me.” That feels amazing. Friends who I tell about my visits are surprised. They wonder how do I have the time to do it. They seem a bit shocked that I would give up my time to visit older people in their homes. I think the Government should devote more resources to assisting older people. I work in retail and this is a great outlet for me. It enriches my own life when I know that I have done some good for others. • For more information about the My Life My Way project, visit or call Age NI on 028 9024 5729

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Overcoming rural isolation

Teamwork: Joan, Peter and Tina


By Kylie Noble

t can be tempting to see the countryside as an idyllic setting, a place free from the hustle and bustle of city life. For many, it offers a slower pace of life but can have the flipside of individuals feeling much more isolated from the wider community. Siblings Joan Woods, 57 and Peter Woods, 51, grew up on a commercial farm which has been in the family since 1897. Quarries Farm is named after its past life as a quarry. Located on the Gransha Road, Bangor, it operates as a social farm, providing farming and horticulture activities for a range of people, many with learning disabilities and mental health problems. The farm also takes on international volunteers during the summer. Social farming is a form of farm diversification which the Department of Agriculture (DoA) has been encouraging in Northern Ireland since 2011. The DoA provided funding for three years, launching 20 pilot farms across Northern Ireland and the border counties. Joan and Peter’s farm was one of those involved in the scheme. The Woods’ involvement in social farming stemmed from their own mental health problems and feelings of social exclusion. Their own father had worked on the farm until 83 years of age. He retired in 1991. Peter, who had always intended to follow in his footsteps, studied agriculture at Greenmount College. At 19 years of age, Peter was attacked and beaten up. This traumatic event left an impact on him mentally, and he was


We were very torn. We felt isolated. Caring for family is a choice you make without thinking of the consequences

diagnosed with schizophrenia in1986. After their parent’s death, Peter lived alone on the farm which frequently attracted people, who believing it was abandoned, vandalised it. “Peter felt tormented and became paranoid about leaving the farm,” said Joan. Apart from weekly mental health check-ups, he was very isolated. Joan, who had moved to England in 1978 to attend university, travelled back over to be Peter’s carer with her partner Tina. In 2008, Peter started growing beetroot. This proved to be the spark to the farm becoming a social one in 2009. The difference this made to Peter’s life was immense. It also helped Joan and Tina cope with their own feelings of loneliness and feel more connected to the community. “Being gay in a rural

community was isolating,” said Joan. “I and Tina, as carers, we were very torn. We felt isolated. Caring for family is a choice you make without thinking of the consequences,” said Joan. The farm was set up with the help of friends from England and people in the local area. It had become overgrown and needed repair. Around 20 volunteers helped to build the main infrastructure. The allotments and woodland are available for individuals and organisations to experience the outdoors together. Some social farms work with the health trusts to refer individuals. Joan and Peter’s farm is self-referral. It has 15 acres of woodland and 10,000 trees. They are currently developing a wildlife habitat. Whilst European funding has ended for social farming, governments – north and south of the border – continue to support the vision. The North’s support office is linked to the charity Rural Support and managed by Aoibeann Walsh, Social Farming Service Coordinator. Aoibeann believes Peter and Joan’s experience echoes that of many farmers. “The small family farm used to be the centre of the community. For participants social farming has proven to improve wellbeing for elderly people with dementia, drug and alcohol addicts and people who can’t hold down a job,” she said. The core challenge for social farming in Northern Ireland is working towards a sustainable funding plan. “The farmers provide a service and can’t do it all on a voluntary basis,” said Aoibeann.


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A great showcase for charities


Mark Adair, Head of Corporate and Community Affairs at BBC NI, says he hopes the Playing Our Part appeal, in association with Age NI, will encourage younger generations to lend a helping hand to older people

roadcast Appeals have been part of the BBC’s work in Northern Ireland for almost 90 years. These short programmes give local charities the opportunity to talk about what they do and provide a great showcase for some of the activities that are taking place at community level. Our Appeals are broadcast throughout the year on BBC radio and television and are complemented by a dedicated website with additional films, information and advice. Demand for Appeal slots has increased over recent years and we have just doubled the number of BBC Broadcast Appeal programmes on local television. We also have a long-established tradition of a BBC Christmas Appeal in Northern Ireland. It includes features and reports across the BBC’s schedules – highlighting issues and the different ways in which people and organisations can get involved. The focus of this Appeal in 2016 is on the needs and role of older people in our community, working in partnership with Age NI. Our aim is to make BBC audiences aware of the challenges that can sometimes be associated with later life, including the effects of loneliness and social isolation. Mobility issues and the fact that friends and relatives may be living some distance away can lead to older people feeling cut off from the world around them. We know how important BBC services can be for them in providing companionship and a sense of connection with people and events. But it’s also true that something more is required if older

Our aim is to make BBC audiences aware of the challenges that can sometimes be associated with later life, including the effects of loneliness and social isolation

people aren’t to feel isolated or even ignored within wider society. We hope that Playing Our Part, with its stories and practical advice, will have a galvanising effect on younger generations – encouraging them to lend a helping hand to an elderly neighbour and to take time to engage with them and their needs. Our message is that being neighbourly about the small and everyday things in life can make a big difference. And the potential benefits are for everyone. We have been encouraged by reaction to this BBC Christmas campaign and the conversations that it has helped to stimulate about older people and what they bring to community life. Holiday periods such as this can be a feel-good time, but they can also reinforce people’s sense of vulnerability. We hope that our Appeal, with its focus on little gestures and relationships, will allow many different people to get involved, and that links made and friendships established will endure long after the busyness of Christmas has passed. Playing Our Part is a reminder that older people matter and that we depend on each other. It’s an affirmation of community and an opportunity for everyone to get involved. It also demonstrates the BBC’s role in bringing important issues and stories to the widest possible audience. And this particular campaign with Age NI, like so much else of what we do, has been enhanced by the involvement of other groups and organisations. It’s a simple reminder of how great things happen by working together – and the difference that the BBC can help make possible

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‘I miss not having someone to cuddle up to’ Jan Willis: A home is not a home if there is no one to share it with


very morning – even if it’s raining – Jan Wills puts on a brave face and walks into the centre of the Staffordshire town where she lives. She buys a newspaper, mooches around the shops, and sometimes sits on a bench and watches the world go by. Occasionally she’ll call out a cheery hello to a familiar face, or start chatting to a perfect stranger who sits down next to her. “It’s fascinating what people will talk to you about,” she tells me. But in the evenings, especially now that the nights are drawing in, it’s a different story. Eighty-five-year old Jan was widowed six years ago when her husband Trevor passed away. She now lives alone and admits to feeling lonely on a regular basis. “What I miss terribly in the evenings is not having somebody there to speak to, and not having somebody to cuddle up to,” she says. Janet and Trevor met in 2005 and married in 2008. Both had been widowed before but found love again in their seventies. “I keep his pyjama jacket on his pillow and just having it there means I can put my hand out and feel him there,” she says. The former nurse, who only retired at the age of 71, enjoys holidays afloat and has

By Carolyn Done

been on numerous cruises all over the world. “On a cruise there are a lot of single people and you are never short of company – there’s always someone there. It’s also safe for women on their own.” But when she returns home, Jan needs to acclimatise to being on her own again. “It’s quite devastating when you get home: a house is not a home if there is no one to share it with.” But Jan has a dogged determination not to let the situation get the better of her and finds ways to combat the loneliness. “I have the radio on from the moment I wake up in the morning so that I can hear voices and music. Chris Evans is jolly and cheerful but I do talk back to Vanessa Feltz!” She is also a member of the local church and enjoys weekly visits to her local hair salon where she joins in with the hairdressers’ banter. “There’s always a criss-cross of conversations going on and I always join in,” she laughs, recalling amusing anecdotes from staff and clients. “But at the end of the day,” sighs Jan, “no matter what you’ve been doing to fill the hours, you are still back on your own and the loneliness just gets worse.”

Jan has a son who lives locally and with whom she has regular contact, and a daughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who live in other parts of the UK. “People’s lives change and work takes your family away and you lose that close contact you once had. Most of my family are miles away and that’s ok, they have their own lives and I don’t begrudge them that. Jan maintains that a cheery attitude is all it takes to stave off negative feelings and, perhaps due to her nursing background, firmly believes that a lot of lonely elderly people have the power to help themselves. In 1974, Jan had major spinal surgery for osteoarthritis – which she still suffers from – and had several vertebrae replaced with plastic and titanium. She had to learn to walk again but eventually returned to nursing. In 2007 she had a knee replacement, has recurrent thyroid problems and glaucoma. “I’m as stiff as a poker every morning but a couple of pain killers and I’m ok.” And Jan’s advice to others feeling lonely and isolated? “Get off your bum, put on your shoes, and go through that door! “Go out and say good morning to someone and be thankful you’re alive.”


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Mapping isolation and loneliness


Elma Greer, Healthy Ageing Coordinator for Belfast Strategic Partnership, outlines the key findings in a new report that uses data to highlight areas of concern in Belfast

elfast Strategic Partnership (BSP) and the Healthy Ageing Strategic Partnership (HASP) are committed to supporting a wide range of organisations that can make a contribution to reducing health inequalities. The central priority of the Belfast Strategic Partnership is to strengthen the emotional wellbeing and resilience of individuals and communities in Belfast. In 2012, Belfast started the process of working towards becoming an age-friendly city and is now a World Health Organisation Age Friendly City with an action plan which involves many older people’s groups as well as organisations from the statutory, private and voluntary sectors. Our vision is that Belfast will be an age-friendly city where older people live life to the full. One of the key priorities is to reduce isolation and loneliness amongst older people because we know that the effect of loneliness and isolation can be as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is more damaging than obesity. We want to make a difference to this issue by working with community groups and older people and in 2014-2015 we awarded 18 small grants throughout Belfast and these projects reached 1,297 isolated older people. We also want to reach older people who are most at risk of isolation and loneliness and it has been shown that this can be done through the following approaches: • Using data to develop visual maps of areas where people who are most at risk live. • Harnessing local knowledge to find and engage older people experiencing loneliness and isolation. • Working with a range of partners to coordinate information and respond. We have just carried out an important piece of work on the first of these approaches and are launching the report

Our central priority is to strengthen the emotional wellbeing and resilience of individuals and communities

Mapping Isolation and Loneliness amongst Older People in Belfast, working with Professor Geraint Ellis and Sara Ferguson from the School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen’s University. This report examines individual and area level factors and then places this information on spatial maps for Belfast Some key findings are that: • We have identified individual factors that increase older people’s vulnerability to isolation and loneliness; for example, being aged 75 or older, living in single person households, not having access to a car and living in an area of higher social deprivation aged 65 plus. • There are additional risk factors which heighten an individual’s vulnerability: poor health status; limited participation in social and leisure activities; and disengagement with digital technology • Older people living within some of the most socially deprived neighbourhoods in inner city Belfast are at the greatest risk of becoming isolated and lonely, but there are also pockets of vulnerable households located across the city, including those areas that have higher average household incomes We will work together to use the findings of this report to target initiatives at city wide and neighbourhood level in order to reduce levels of isolation and loneliness for those older people who are most at risk. HASP is currently hosting a series of workshops to discuss the findings of this report with key stakeholders and we also plan to host discussions on the use of the maps in several priority local areas, including our age-friendly neighbourhood in Greater Shankill, west Belfast, and a dementia-friendly neighbourhood in east Belfast I would also encourage you to use this report in your area of work and to disseminate it to your contacts and colleagues. To obtain a copy please contact or phone 028 9050 2073

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‘These photographs are a unique insight into the opportunities and challenges of later life, by older people themselves’ Maura McLean, Hidden Voices Project Manager

Hidden Voices


he photographers’ featured in the Hidden Voices project are all members of the Age NI Consultative Forum. The Forum was established in 2010 as part of Age NI’s commitment to have the voice of older people at the heart of the policy and practice of the charity. Members come from across Northern Ireland and bring to the forum a wide range of skills, expertise and life

experience, which enables them to represent the voice of older people in debates, campaigns and projects which focus on ageing issues. Hidden Voices was developed by the forum in 2014 to engage with and portray some of the issues faced by older people, many of whom could be considered as ‘hard to reach’ or ‘lesser heard’ in society. As a result of their conversations with more than 100 older people, several

A self portrait by Chris, one of the participants in the project

themes emerged including the importance of active ageing; family; relationships and friendships; life as a carer; rural isolation and loneliness; coming to Northern Ireland and growing older here and living with a disability or illness. With the support of funding from Arts Council NI as part of the Arts and Older People Programme, Hidden Voices is a powerful photographic perspective on older people by older people.

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‘The Hidden Voices project inspires us all to think about the challenge of isolation and loneliness in later life’ Linda Robinson, Age NI Chief Executive


A special thanks for work on Hidden Voices Project must go to Age NI Project Coordinator Maura McClean and professional photographer John Rush

Nellie came from Donegal to Tyrone aged 14, and immediately was ‘hired out’ to a family in rural Tyrone. Now 93 years old, she said she has had to work hard all her life

Hidden Voices

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Jim, above, now in his 75th year, took up mountain walking 20 years ago with a club, and despite serious threats to his health, continues to walk regularly, some of it quite challenging, and said he has no intention of scaling down his activities

John and Gerry who were photographed by Colin Flynn as part of the Hidden Voices project

Lives transformed in Living Well project VIEW, Issue 41, 2016


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The Living Well Moyle Steering Group and Minister for Health for Heath, Michelle O’Neill

quiet revolution has been happening in the Moyle area, and it is anticipated that it will transform the lives of older people in that area who are living with chronic conditions. Age NI together with the local community, GPs, the local council and the Health and Social care organisations (HSCB; NHSCT; PHA) have been working to develop Living Well Moyle. The Living Well approach is not necessarily a new concept. In fact it is remarkably simple and probably familiar in its approach – connecting people to the things that matter to them in their community will increase their sense of wellbeing, and that increased wellbeing will support people to Live Well in their communities. The approach builds on the Minister of Health’s vision in which she highlights that she wants to increase community capacity and that “we will work with communities to support them to develop their strengths and use their assets to tackle the determinants of health and social wellbeing” Developed by Age UK Cornwall and

By Duane Farrell Charity Director Age NI

Isles of Scilly in partnership with statutory and community partners, results indicate a 20 per cent improvement in the wellbeing of those older people who were in the cohort. Evidence also indicated a reduction of 41 percent in unscheduled acute hospital activity costs for the cohort and a reduction of eight percent in social care costs for the cohort. The message was clear – connecting people to community resources not only improved older people’s wellbeing, but meant that they were returning to a more normal pattern of usage of health and social care services. Conversations with older people have highlighted that as a result of living with chronic conditions, the normal pattern of support has changed. Instead of people’s family, friends and communities being the first port of call to support an individual, those living with

chronic conditions had come to rely on the health and social care system. GP surgeries, social care workers and hospital admissions have largely become the support system around an individual and have displaced people’s family, friends and communities as key circles of support. People still have chronic conditions, but are living well with them and can, through the support of a range of practitioners across the community, voluntary and statutory sectors, regain a connection on things that interest them – knitting, walking, meeting up for a cuppa and a chat, chatting over the weekends sports results. Connecting people in this way can sound soft and fluffy. Great to do, but in an era of tightened resources, a luxury which perhaps can’t be afforded. What the Cornwall results indicate is that the ‘soft’ stuff leads to real results for people, and through that, the system as a whole. • To find out more about Living Well in Moyle, visit

COMMENT VIEW, Issue 41, 2016


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A major public health challenge


Siobhan Sweeney, Health Improvement and Social Wellbeing Manager at the Public Health Agency, outlines steps they are taking to tackle social isolation and loneliness

here are currently 285,900 people aged over 65 years in Northern Ireland. It is anticipated that by 2039 there will be almost half a million people – one in four of us aged over 65 years living here. About 36,900 of these people will be living alone. Although living alone is not in itself a cause of social isolation or loneliness, it is a significant factor. A range of things, including a reduction in family size, changing work patterns, differences in communities and changing patterns of communication, have all contributed to the emergence of social isolation and loneliness as a major public health issue, the impact of which is particularly acute for older people. A recent study revealed that mortality rates are higher amongst lonely and socially isolated people, and it is widely recognised that social isolation is greater amongst older men. The terms ‘loneliness’ and ‘social isolation’ mean different things, however, the experience of both is negative.2 Older people are more likely to experience loneliness and social isolation due to loss of friends, family, mobility, and income.1 This has a negative impact on their health and social wellbeing. The Public Health Agency works across agencies and organisations to improve the health and wellbeing of older people, through a range of programmes. Working jointly with local councils is also an important opportunity to create agefriendly communities. This development has also been identified as a key theme of the public health strategy ‘Making Life Better’. Social prescribing projects are being piloted as a partnership with Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum and Derg Valley Healthy Living centre and 10 GP practices in the West. Social prescribing programmes aim to help older people address social, emotional or practical needs by linking them to sources of support and activities within their local community. Older people can be referred to the

A recent study revealed that mortality rates are higher amongst lonely and socially isolated people service by their GP. The Social Prescribing Coordinator will then visit the older person to discuss suitable options including social clubs, physical activity, selfhelp groups, volunteering, learning, counselling, and advice and guidance services A regional approach to arts and older people is also being delivered via partnerships with Arts Care and Arts Council NI. Providing new opportunities for older people to meet together through the medium of arts activities is in itself good for health, growing confidence and engagement. In partnership with Arts Council and the Baring Foundation, the strategic themes for the Arts and Older People programme include Isolation and Loneliness, Social Inclusion, Poverty, Health Issues/Dementia including Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing, and Strengthening the Voice of Older People. The programme to date has made 97 awards to community and voluntary groups and arts organisations. Over 9,000 participants have been involved in projects

across Northern Ireland totalling almost £1.5 million. The programme also ensures that artists and carers are prepared, and training is included as part of delivering and creating arts with the older person. An Arts and Age event has been held during the month of April, which showcases the projects and provides a platform for the older people to celebrate their participation in the arts. In 2016/17 it is anticipated that 30 new community-based projects will be supported across the region – a grants call went out in early autumn and is currently being assessed. In partnership with Arts Care NI, the PHA is delivering the ‘Here and Now’ Festival across the five Health and Social Care (HSC) trusts. The aim of the ‘Here and Now’ festival is to enhance the quality of life of older people across Northern Ireland through access to and participation in high-quality arts activity across a variety of art forms. This work has been delivered in both residential and community-based facilities and includes skill development and capacity building for HSC and community staff. To date, there has been a total of 1,135 workshops with over 15,000 participants. Over 3,000 individuals have been engaged in each year of the programme with 40 workshops delivered in each of the five HSC trust areas. The partnership with Arts Care and the Arts Council contributes significantly to the achievement of the five ways to wellbeing: Connect, Keep Active, Take Notice, Give, and Keep Learning.

• References 1, CARDI. Focus On – Loneliness and physical health. Dublin: Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland, 2012. 2, K. Windle, J. Francis, C. Coomber. Preventing loneliness and social isolation: interventions and outcomes. London: Social Care Institute for Excellence, 2011.

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Loch Doon, in the Dark Sky Park of Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland

‘I’ve been lonely. I’ve felt its weight, the physical pain of it’

Twenty-three-old Belinda Cree from Bangor, Co Down, writes how she sometimes craves solitude but has also experienced the pain of loneliness


still find it hard to start anything without first relying on an introduction to start the ball rolling. My name is Belinda, by the time you read this I’ll probably be 23 years old, and I’m from Bangor, Co. Down. Fresh out of university, I’ve just moved back to Northern Ireland where I plan to start taking my career seriously once I’ve visited a few more countries. Allow me to set the scene for you. It’s quiet, the sun has long since disappeared behind the hilltops to the west, leaving the valley in an in-between state that’s neither day or night. This loch stretches out right to the horizon before it ducks round the corner behind a wall of evergreens. The waters have stilled, and when I look back over my shoulder from its edge the only evidence of civilisation for miles is my 2011 Renault Clio. This was my usual Friday, or Sunday, or any day – whenever the opportunity presented itself I’d take a wrong turn off the by-pass and head out to the moderate isolation of the Scottish Lowlands. It didn’t take long for the habit to form. I craved the emptiness of it all. It’s a

Disconnect: Belinda Cree

point of pride for me I think, to be alone. To be capable of being alone, and to be content that way. It wasn’t just weekly trips to the loch either, it was long drives and weekends on islands and up mountains. But most often, it was a pair of headphones and a good book. I need solitude. It calms me down, it helps me to process what’s

happened before and prepare for what’s coming ahead. Surely with all this time alone, I must be on the cusp of the void – one more solo trip to the cinema away from despair and loneliness. How dramatic. But for me, and for now, it’s simply not true. I am comfortable in my solitude and I draw strength from the security and peace it provides. I feel privileged to have this outlook and very fortunate to be in a position where I can choose to participate socially with those closest to me without becoming wholly dependent on their companionship for my sense of wellbeing. But here’s the kicker. I’ve been lonely. I’ve felt its weight, the physical pain of it. I’ve wanted to jump out of my own head and run into the arms of another. I’ve watched them looking back at me for an answer I can’t muster. For me, loneliness is the disconnect I feel when I want to be close to someone but don’t know how. I don’t feel lonely when I’m alone, I feel lonely when I’m around other people but I might as well not be.


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Alone in a crowded city

You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particularly flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city surrounded by millions of people.” Olivia Laing writes in her book The Lonely City. Olivia explores loneliness in New York through the paintings of Edward Hopper and other artists; celebrities such as Andy Warhol to those who died in obscurity like Henry Darger. Cities like to promote their ‘connectedness’ in terms of broadband and transport links but for the citizen the experience of living surrounded by people can be a lonely experience. “It’s possible – easy, even – to feel desolate and unfrequented in oneself while living cheek by jowl with others.” Olivia writes. Her description of being part of a Hallowe’en crowd out enjoying New York city at night time but wishing she had worn a mask to hide the anxiety about the loneliness is telling. Edward Hopper’s painting

By Una Murphy

‘Nighthawks’ is among the art considered by Oliva in this challenging and thought-provoking book. She unearths a comment from Hopper about the painting: “Unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city”, and added: “I probably am a lonely one.” I was also interested to find out about American artist and activist David Worjnarowicz who campaigned over and chronicled the deaths of many in the gay community from AIDS. This book contemplates loneliness through art and also asks whether technology helps with human connectedness or makes us all more remote from each other; connecting via social media or mobile phone texts even when sitting beside each other. The author also touches on the “unimaginable loneliness of being left in the world we have despoiled”. The dystopian film ‘Blade Runner’ is cited in the

Writer Olivia Laing book and it is not too different from Olivia’s description of living in one of several small New York apartments with neon lights flashing advertising into her bedroom and the sounds for unseen neighbours. You want to shout “stop” before this nightmarish vision becomes our own reality. Or will the sense of community we claim as our natural birthright in this part of the world prevent this from happening? “Loneliness is personal, and it is also political. Loneliness is collective; it is a city. As to how to inhabit it, there are no rules and nor is there any need to feel shame, only to remember that the pursuit of individual happiness does not trump or excuse your obligations to each other,” Olivia Laing concludes. I couldn’t agree more. • The Lonely City by Olivia Laing published by Canongate.

Review: VIEW, Issue 41, 2016

Page 31

Loneliness in an era of longevity Author Margaret Drabble


tretching longevity may be the aspiration of many, but as Margaret Drabble warns here, be very careful of what you wish for. Soul lacerating loneliness looms for those of her characters who seek to exceed their allotted time by scrambling to hide from the pale rider. Mere existence, she vividly shows, is not living. Drabble’s protagonist, the seventy-something Francesca Stubbs, ponders what it is to age, live and die either poorly or well. Her contemplation foregrounds a sequence of relatives; colleagues; friends and acquaintances, each a vignette in a stream of consciousness meditation on ageing, and what she sees as the ‘bullshit’ and ‘claptrap’ that frequently surround it. Employed by a charity because of her expertise in sheltered housing and residential care for older people, she crisscrosses England evaluating an assortment of such establishments and participating in conferences exploring related issues.

By Harry Reid

In language deftly hand-quarried by scalpel rather than malleted chisel, Margaret Drabble demonstrates that at the age of seventy-seven, like her older estranged novelist sister A.S. Byatt, her skills as a wordsmith remain undimmed. She is a master of both the erudite and distinctly salty. This is as well. For in less accomplished hands the essentially plotless narrative and uncomfortable themes would have meant few persevering to the end of this truthful book about endings. The nature of the central theme is announced before a page is turned, for the title comes from D.H. Lawrence’s poem ‘The Ship of Death’. While ‘The Dark Flood Rises’ is not a beach read, it is nevertheless a highly rewarding one. Making it so is Fran and her dark humane wit. She savours simple pleasures: happy at breakfast with good coffee, fresh newsprint and a perfectly boiled egg.

She casts a scathing eye on a world ushering in the robot-based care of older people, that sees refugees fleeing homeland nightmares vomited onto coldly hostile European beaches and where the native poor endure gangrenous social housing grotesquely at odds with human need. Above all, she shudders at the modern obsession with the perpetuation of life irrespective of its quality. In her view ‘longevity has f****d up our pensions, our work-life balance, our health service, our housing, our happiness. It has f****d up old age itself’. In common with Kurt Vonnegut, arguably the best western writer of the 20th century, Drabble challenges us to intuit and embrace when it’s time to head for ‘home’. • The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble Published by Canongate

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View magazine issue 41  

Community and Voluntary, social affairs magazine

View magazine issue 41  

Community and Voluntary, social affairs magazine