The silent killer condition affecting Leeds folk that is as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day

It is as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and sufferers are likely to have their risk of death increased by 29 per cent.

By Emma Ryan
Saturday, 28th December 2019, 6:00 am

But this is not cancer, heart disease, a broken bone or indeed any physical medical condition.

This is the effect that loneliness has on people.

According to the charity, Age UK, there are 1.2 million chronically lonely older people in the UK and half a million older people go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all.

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Michael Hassell, and Rosie Nadin-Pummell, who both volunteer for the be-friending service with OWLS have a chat at the HEART community cafe in Headingley.

But, as Emma Ryan discovers, Leeds is leading the way in moves to address what is becoming a national epidemic.

Further Age UK studies suggest that the number of over 50s experiencing loneliness is set to reach two million by 2025/6. This compares to around 1.4 million in 2016/7 – a 49 per cent increase in 10 years.

Neighbourhood Network

The very first Neighbourhood Network Scheme was established in Leeds in 1985 and the idea behind them is that they are are community based, locally led organisations that enable older people to live independently and participate within communities by providing services that reduce social isolation, provide opportunities for volunteering and act as a “gateway” to advice, information and services that promote health and well-being for them.

Doreen Cheetham, preparing a snack for a visitor to the morning cafe session.

There are now just short of 40 schemes operating across the city from Otley to Morley and across to Wetherby in what is thought to be the only scheme of its kind in the country.

Each network has its own name and own programme of activities from lunch clubs to exercise classes.

On a Friday morning, Older Wiser Local Seniors (better known as OWLS), meet at the HEART centre at Headingley where Rose’s Tea Bar is open and ready for brews and business.

They also run events at Hyde Park, Burley, Little Woodhouse and parts of Kirkstall.

Sonja Buchanan, brings over a cup of tea to a visitor during the morning cafe session.

The Yorkshire Evening Post dropped in on the last Friday before Christmas.

We found a warm, welcoming cafe, trimmed up all festive and with the most tempting table of cakes and biscuits and open to all the community to use - young and old.

While the all important Christmas raffle was being drawn over much merriment, we found out how the networks reach out to the old folk that can’t get to the cafe for companionship, coffee, cakes and conversation.

Be-friending Scheme

Visitors attending the morning cafe session at HEART in Headingley.

OWLS, as do many of the networks including Bramley Elderley Action Aid, run a befriender scheme where volunteers visit a lonely older person in their own homes.

After a thorough process of checks the duos are matched on backgrounds and interests.

Rosie Nadin-Pummell, did be-friending when she lived in Bradford prior to moving to Leeds and visits a lady once a week whose family live away from Leeds as well as having a phone chat once a week too.

She said: “I was matched to her after they found out about my interests and background. I am a former teacher and she was a teacher.

“We talk about everything but, I have found with her, and people that I befriended in Bradford, because of their age they like to reminisce and particularly like to reference the Second World War.

“I think it makes a difference. She knows I will come to see her and she says she looks forward to the visits.

“For me it is like stepping into a soap opera, you are sharing somebody else’s life and I think that is a real privilege.

“You build up a picture of what their life is like and has been - it is like stepping into another world.”


And then for Michael Hassell, who is 72, the service is as much a benefit for him as the gentleman he visits.

Mr Hassell gave up his job to care for his mother back in 2001 until she died in 2008. He lives alone and while the person he be-friends is just a year older than him, Mr Hassell still enjoys his independence and being able to get around.

He and his be-friendee share a love of musicals and classical plays and as he can’t get to the theatre - Mr Hassell brings it to him and they will watch DVDs. He also helped him send Christmas cards.

“I read his address book out to him, he writes the cards and I post them. He has carers as there is not a lot he can do by himself, but writing the cards he can and that is absolutely essential.

“We talk about all sorts, every day things - but we don’t discuss politics”, he hastens to add.

“I have always volunteered - it is a matter of being useful. There is something in it for me. I get some pleasure out of knowing he gets pleasure of me going to visit him. It is self-reward isn’t it? It is nice to be needed but by visiting one person you are putting something back into local society.”

A spokesperson for OWLS said: “The community cafe sounds like tea and cake but that can be really important. We try and encourage older people to come, they start making friends and it is about building up social networks. If you have friends around you , they will support you, it is as simple as that.”

Get involved

The Neighbourhood Networks are on the look out for volunteers as the winter months are known to exacerbate the impact of loneliness.

To find out how you can volunteer to help older people in your area contact your local Neighbourhood Network Scheme.

A map and contact details for each of the 35 organisations supporting older people in your area is at Leeds Older People’s Forum website