This is a transcript of my My View column that was published in the Doncaster Star on Monday 21 August, 2017
According to the Age UK charity, almost 6,000 older people in Doncaster are lonely or socially isolated. There are many factors that cause this – a friend moves away, a partner dies, the person develops a restrictive or chronic illness or disability and before they know it, their social circle, the one they relied on for years, ceases to exist.
I see many examples of this in consultations with patients at my surgery every week.
Loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health. Research shows that lacking social connections can be as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Having a good social network and friendships helps improve our quality of life and helps us recover faster when we fall ill. Lonely people are more likely to visit their GP, have higher use of medication and are at greater risk of needing long-term care.
Historically, Doncaster communities have provided a lot of support for each other and this is something we’re trying to revive and strengthen again with the support of both the local statutory and voluntary sectors. Age UK Doncaster has introduced a new scheme called Circles, to try and bring together friends, family, neighbours and others to help people live better, happier lives.
Each Circle has a clear purpose. A good example is Dennis, a 91-year-old Doncaster man whose passion in life is football. He loves talking about football but he didn’t have anyone who shared his interest. So Dennis was matched with an Age UK volunteer called Alex and they have since attended a charity football match together and reminisced over old team photos.
Other Doncaster people’s Circles involve staying active, cooking or crafts, re-connecting with a faith community or starting dancing again.
A lot of people the charity helps have everything practical they need, but they are often lonely and not doing the things that matter the most to them in life. Since launching in January this year, Circles is helping to enrich a lot of lives that would otherwise be lonely and isolated.
Age UK say their Circles are having great outcomes in Doncaster but there’s just one problem – they need more volunteers to come forward and help make friendships.
Volunteering makes a huge difference in the lives of others. There’s good evidence that volunteering brings benefits to both the person volunteering and the people they support. From lowering stress to boosting self-confidence, volunteering offers many health benefits—especially for older adults.
So today I have a simple question to ask – could you spare a bit of your time to become a volunteer circle facilitator? Age UK Doncaster will provide all the training and support you need.
By dedicating just two hours a month you could help more people make the most of later life. Find out more by ringing the Circles team on 01302 812345 or email CirclesTeam@ageukdoncaster.org.uk.