Loneliness lifelines lost due to lockdown - how one Leeds scheme is forging new friendships

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For many older and isolated people in Leeds, a coffee morning would have been the highlight of their week and a welcome break from sitting alone inside the four walls of their own lonely home.

However, when lockdown landed in March, lifelines such as this were literally stopped overnight. There were no coffee mornings, no lunch clubs, no organised trips. For many this meant no interaction with another person.

The OWLS (Older Wiser Local Seniors) group - which covers Burley, Headingley, Hyde Park, Little Woodhouse and parts of Kirkstall - knew it had to do something to help the 400 vulnerable members that it would have provided weekly activities for.

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Everyone on the database was contacted and asked if they wanted to take part in a new scheme that OWLS came up with the same week that lockdown was imposed. Those that said yes were asked a few simple questions such as what their interests were and paired up with someone else for an organised weekly phone call.

Pamela Easter who has experienced both sides of loneliness and isolation.Pamela Easter who has experienced both sides of loneliness and isolation.
Pamela Easter who has experienced both sides of loneliness and isolation.

Phone a Friend

'Phone A New Friend' has now been running for nearly three months and, as part of National Loneliness Week, those involved have spoken of how much they have valued being able to pick up the phone and still form new friendships - despite being a few miles apart.

Joanne McManus, a community builder for OWLS, leads the new scheme. She said: "There is a focus on lockdown and isolation and loneliness but it highlights the facts that for a lot of people, lockdown has not impacted their lives because it was already impacted by that to start with.

"A majority of our members come under the high risk group. We had to look at a new direction and a new way of working in order to support members.

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Alice Whip, aged 89, jumped at the chance to join the Phone a New Friend scheme.Alice Whip, aged 89, jumped at the chance to join the Phone a New Friend scheme.
Alice Whip, aged 89, jumped at the chance to join the Phone a New Friend scheme.

"This is something that can help people long-term. The ones that are taking it up are really enjoying the process and there are some good friendships being developed. It is in the early stages but there is potential to develop this further and they are looking forward to meeting up and having a party at the end of this, when that is."

As part of National Loneliness Week, the scheme is appealing for more people to get in touch if they are feeling lonely or if they want to be paired with a new phone friend.

The statistics

The Campaign to End Loneliness found in a recent UK poll that amongst people aged 65+, three out of four (75%) respondents said their contact with family or friends has been significantly limited due to the coronavirus crisis.

According to 2011 Census data, there are 1500 older people (65+) living alone in Kirkstall, Headingley and Hyde Park areas of Leeds. There are 159,000 older people (aged 60 upwards) living in Leeds.

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Whilst some are well supported and connected with friends and family, there are many who are living alone or with limited contact to others.

Alice Whip is 89 and lives in Headingley with her daughter and grand-daughter. She has been paired with a lady who is blind, lives alone and has not left her flat for 12 weeks.


This service is a lifeline to her.

Alice explained: "Joanne asked and I said 'certainly, I would love it'. That is how I got involved and I can't praise it enough. We talk about anything and everything and never stop. I gave her a breathing excercise that I got from a doctor which she said she would try and little hints about cooking. We talk about favourite TV shows and we both love Who Wants To Be A Millionnaire. She said it is like being in touch with an old friend."

Pamela Easter, aged 74, lives in an independent complex in Headingley with care. Before that she lived alone and wouldn't see anyone for at least two weeks at a time. She wanted to help others during lockdown but being in a wheelchair meant she was limited as to what she could do.

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She said: "I was sat here in my flat on my own and was thinking I want to do something. I saw people were delivering groceries but I am in a wheel chair so that would have been difficult. Joanne from OWLS rang to see if I was alright - and I was fine but bored.

"They gave me this number and I rang and spoke to Tom and thought 'this is going to be really difficult'. When I spoke to him it wasn't and over the weeks we are now quite good friends. It started at once a week, then twice or three times. If I think of something I will ring him about it. When we met for the first time last week, it was like I knew him. We will probably go for coffee, when we can, but he is good company and he is another friend."

Mrs Easter says despite living alone, she is very lucky with the carers that visit her complex and aside from personal care are now bringing food, shopping and helping with haircuts.

She cannot praise them enough for how they have helped residents in the flats, and she is well aware that not everyone is getting the same help during lockdown.

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She added: "I don't have the same problems as somebody that lives totally on their own, but I have done. Before when I was at home after my husband died, I did not see a soul for two weeks and got really depressed.

"When I took this on I thought I am doing good for somebody but never realised it was two ways. People don't know how much they will get the benefit out of it. There is so much that people can give."

To get involved with The OWLS scheme, which is looking for more people, contact 0113 369 7077.

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