‘Why I am a Trustee’ – Beth Williams

Community Network is a small national charity that tackles loneliness and social isolation using telecommunications. Nowadays people have more ways of communicating than ever before, so it is easy to forget that many people are lonely, bored or lacking in mental stimulation. Sadly, loneliness and social isolation often go hand in hand with poor physical and mental health.

At the start of 2016 I decided I wanted to become a Trustee of a charity. I wanted to volunteer my time to do something good but I also wanted to increase my own learning about the sector.  I’d had experience as a staff member at a charity of working with Trustee Boards but I wanted to experience it from the other side.

When I found that Community Network was looking for new recruits I was really interested. The charity’s concept is very simple but I found it so compelling. Experiencing loneliness is apparently as dangerous to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, is more harmful than obesity and linked to heart disease and dementia.

The charity sets up ‘Talking Communities’ which are groups of people from anywhere in the country who are brought together once a week to socialise together on the phone. Many of the participants are older people, carers and disabled people with mobility problems. A participant might have a partner who has dementia and so is unable to leave them to go out. They or their spouse may have had a career in the armed forces which meant they never stayed in one place so now that they are retired they don’t have roots in the community they live in.

A phone call a week which is hosted by a trained volunteer is a lifeline for some people who may not see anyone for days at a time. Bringing people together helps combat social isolation and loneliness and their devastating effects on health and well-being. It’s a chance to socialise, share experiences and support each other.  Since ‘meetings’ take place on the phone or online, they are easy to use and access – even for people who have mobility problems or a disability.

As part of my Trustee induction I was able to listen to some of the calls and I found it very moving. The pleasure that the participants take in being part of the group, and the way they expressed what a lifeline it was to them makes me realise what a real difference human connection makes.  Its very easy to take for granted the ability to go out and make friends which is essentially what the charity provide to those who may longer have that.

I’m really inspired by the work of this charity and I’m excited to be working with them to grow our reach. Why not donate, volunteer your time or even just follow them on twitter: @Com_Net

Enabling peer support across the life course.

Do you have a family member or friend who has just got their GCSE or A level exam results? Are they considering further studies? Do you remember exam results day and leaving school?

We’ve understood for a while now that loneliness is experienced across all ages and is not just something faced in later life.loneliness and young people

There’s increasing research into how life transitions can trigger loneliness. Leaving home can be a major life transition. Childhood to adulthood. Additional pressures, perhaps triggering loneliness?

Last month was the fifth birthday party for the Campaign to End Loneliness. It was hosted by Andrew Barnett, Director, UK branch of the Caloustie Gulbenkian Foundation (CBF) who used the opportunity to launch CBF’s report on Loneliness Through The Life Course headlined as “a call to action to look at loneliness in the round, at different transitions and across the lifecycle.

For some, adulthood arrives full of possibilities, but, whilst their peers may be pursuing studies further afield (and making new friends away from home), others can be left feeling lonely. Now we’ve found that student life can be a lonely experience too.

Last year we carried out peer research on younger people and loneliness. What our UCL peer researchers unearthed for us was perhaps contrary to what you might think: 62% of those 18-24 year olds interviewed ‘experienced loneliness some or all of the time’.

We specialise in telecoms enabled peer support – helping organisations to use teleconferencing for social benefit. Our Talking Communities projects enable peer support, in groups, via the telephone. It’s a simple offer. It brings people together over the phone. It works. We can measure how participants’ wellbeing increases as they gain from participating in our groups. It’s different from one to one befriending – the peer support approach we use with Talking Communities means that people help people, in groups, over the phone. It works because what happens in the groups isn’t controlled by us but by the participants themselves.

Perhaps surprisingly, research can show little difference in the proportion younger and older people who feel lonely “some of the time” or “all of the time”.

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If you have a family member or friend who has just had their GCSE or A level results let’s hope they enable them to pursue their life goals, free from loneliness whilst gaining robust friendships that sustain, irrespective of their life transitions ahead.

Meantime, if you know of or work at an organisation that wants to help combat loneliness, create togetherness and enable peer support via teleconferencing, please get in touch.  We train staff and volunteers to facilitate peer support via the phone. We are supporting organisations to set up peer support projects and to train their own trainers. We are keen to meet with organisations involving younger people who want to develop Talking Communities.

Do get in touch if you’d like to hear more about our approach and our offer. As the saying goes, it’s good to talk.

Robert Edmonds, CEO

 

 

Volunteers’ Week – Thank you!

A big thank you during Volunteers’ Week 2016 to all our wonderful volunteers who are busy all year hosting our via the telephone peer support groups helping to tackle loneliness.

The skills our volunteer facilitators contribute, in phone groups we call Talking Communities, enable people to help each other and to gain a sense of belonging.

From surveys that our volunteers help us carry out with participants we can show that being involved in a group leads to significant improvements in mental wellbeing.

All of our Talking Communities that we are funded to deliver are made possible thanks to the generosity of our volunteers donating their skills, commitment and enthusiasm.

Thank you once again to all our volunteers. Keep up the good work!

Celebrating all our volunteers - volunteers week 2016 CN logo

The Age of Loneliness

Did anyone else watch The Age of Loneliness on BBCTV last night? “Leaving home can be a very difficult transition” explained Isobel a student in her 20s who was wondering how many of her contemporaries felt lonely like her.

It was a sensitive documentary giving air time to individuals of all ages brave enough to discuss openly the challenge of living with loneliness.

Tactics that people adopt to cope with or combat loneliness were also highlighted. These weren’t life changing steps taken, rather small, poignant steps taken to soften the impact of loneliness that was being endured.

With our focus here at Community Network on helping individuals to help each other we salute those trailblazers who shared their experience of loneliness and participated in this documentary.

What was interesting was that, Sue Bourne, the award winning director who put together the film, allowed the factors surrounding loneliness to emerge from the participant’s voices and depicting them going about their daily life. For one participant solitude was a choice. Not for most.

Loneliness was shown occurring amidst busy urban settings, following divorce, during illness, amongst those in work, with mums at home and following bereavement. And it was spoken of as if an embarrassing matter, that is until the softly spoken interviewer’s voice chipped in with an observation that hit directly at the main cause of each participants’ loneliness. It then became particularly poignant and personal.

The film was important because it showed all ages addressing loneliness. Toward the end it emphasised the relevance of combatting loneliness to increase mental wellbeing.

Here at Community Network we are delivering peer support groups over the telephone with older people, with those who have health conditions and with carers. We are aware of a gap in peer support opportunities for those aged under 60 and have been researching the extent to which loneliness is an issue for younger adults.

It is timely for charities to collaborate to combat loneliness. Community Network acknowledges the importance of working together with groups and individuals to improve social benefit and combat loneliness. In the year ahead we will be involving our beneficiaries in identifying, adopting and pursuing telecommunications that enable peer support to have a real and positive impact for those at risk of, or experiencing loneliness.

In the meantime congratulations to everyone involved in this documentary and particularly to Bob and Dorothy from our partners at The Silver Line.

Talking Communities Together

Great to meet so many of you at our 25th anniversary themed Talking Communities Together event on 16th November 2015.  We have now written up the event which you can access here.

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Because loneliness isn’t going away we need you to let us know how we can collaborate in the use of telecommunications for social benefit.  You can view our consultancy and training offer here.

We are continuing to receive great feedback, lots of practical ideas on going forward and are following up partnership discussions to combine to use telecommunications for social benefit.

Our experience is that Talking Communities really make a difference to our members. You can read here feedback quotes that we have received in 2015.

We know that working together is vital to ensure we make good use of telecommunications for social benefit.