1 million older people in the UK say that they are often lonely. Here’s what one group are doing to tackle social isolation.
By Rachel Eatough
Feeling involved in some sort of community, whether friends, social clubs or even online, is important for good mental health. With that in mind, I suppose that’s why the people at Healthy Telford have let a 15 year old work experience student loose on their blog.
My name is Rachel and I have recently come back to the Public Health team (Healthy Telford) for my second work experience week and I am really excited to tell you about a new project of theirs that I have found out about called “Feed the Birds”.
The idea of the project is to reduce isolation among vulnerable people. It is shocking to hear that over 1 million older people in the UK say that they are ‘always or often lonely’, and that social isolation can be as harmful for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. A once a week visit from a bird-feeding friend provides valuable social time to someone who may not see anyone else in that week.
The project involves Telford residents volunteering their time to go and visit an older isolated person in their community to help feed the birds in their garden. The training aimed to educate volunteers on how to socialise with the person they are matched with, as well as the different birds that can be identified in the garden. The training was varied, and involved lots of different activities to ensure the volunteers are confident meeting this new person and helping them feed the birds.
To me, the project is excellent because it connects local people with vulnerable people in the community over a common objective – appreciating wildlife.
The connections benefit the wider community as it allows keen volunteers to be involved in a simple project local to their homes, reduces social isolation, and I’m sure the birds enjoy it too!
Members of the public can volunteer to be involved in the scheme to visit older people and feed their birds.
The volunteers are asked to try and visit their new friend for about an hour a week, and spend this time feeding the birds over a cup of tea and a chat. Birdseed is provided free to the volunteers along with a simple guide of the birds that may be seen visiting the garden.
The project is still looking for volunteers, so anyone with a passion for birds, or just someone keen to volunteer in their local community can contact the following.
Call: 01952 385114
Give something back
Even if you don’t want to volunteer, you can still make a difference to those around you. ‘Give’ is one of the Five Ways to Wellbeing – five simple things we can all try to do regularly that are shown to improve our mental wellbeing.
If you aren’t ready or don’t have the time to formally volunteer, there are other ways you can ‘give’ back.
Next time you go out, make it your personal challenge to smile at the person walking past you on the street. Help out the older person who is struggling to carry their shopping to the car.
Be involved, and take an active part in your local community. Something that may seem like a small gesture to you could make a big difference to someone’s day- I know that I will be making more of an effort now!