Happy to chat? We are!

Our joint response with The Phone Co-op on launch of Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness.

The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness launched last month taking forward the work she started before her tragic death.

Bringing together a cross party group of MPs with 13 charities including Royal Voluntary Service, Action for Children, Refugee Action and colleagues at The Co-op, the Commission will be shining a light on different aspects of loneliness and the positive steps we can all take to combat it.

Jo Cox put it perfectly: ‘Young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate… it is something many of us could easily help with.’

Loneliness can affect people of all ages, from the bullied school child, to the new mother, to the pensioner who has outlived her friends and immediate family.  Tackling loneliness requires us all to contribute.

As The Campaign to End Loneliness and now The Jo Cox Foundation are gathering momentum across government, charity and business sectors we wanted to pledge our support.

Working together Community Network and The Phone Co-op have been tackling loneliness, working in partnership specifically using telecoms, enabling lonely people to connect in groups by phone.

Robert Edmonds, Chief Executive Officer of Community Network added: “Combating loneliness is at the heart of the service that we are delivering in partnership with The Phone Co-op”.

We combine with The Phone Co-op to host our Talking Communities bringing together groups, over the phone, of up to six people and giving them opportunities to socialise and gain telephone friends.  If you are involved with one of our groups or are a charity or community group already using our teleconferencing for social purposes, please spread the word. If you want to find out more about how to get started get in contact.

We’ve now signed up to the Jo Cox Loneliness, Start a Conversation campaign. Loneliness is something that we can all help to combat, one conversation at a time.  We’ve pledged to be ‘Happy To Chat’.

Whether on the phone or face to face, let’s all join with the Jo Cox Loneliness, Start a Conversation, campaign. You can find out how to pledge your support here.


1 Community Network is a charity and social enterprise using telecoms for social benefit. Based from Archway, North London, it works across the UK to combat social isolation, loneliness and their devastating effects on health. Since 1989 it has been bringing socially isolated people together to build talking communities, telecoms enabled peer support. The groups are hosted by trained volunteers and help people to engage with others, build confidence, increase self-esteem and improve mental health and well-being. Community Network specialise in supporting charities and community groups in setting up and hosting talking communities, getting people together over the telephone. www.communitynetworkprojects.org

2 The Phone Co-op is a telecoms and internet service provider based in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire and in Manchester. It is a consumer co-operative, owned by its members, who are its customers. It provides products and services (phone, mobile and broadband as well as business data services) to residential and business customers throughout the UK. It also provides teleconferencing facilities for charities, not for profit organisations and other co-operatives. Driven by its members, it has a strong focus on ethics, both social and environmental. The Phone Co-op has over 30,000 business and residential customers, over 70 employees and more than 11,700 members. It started trading in 1998 and has grown steadily since then and now has a turnover of over £12.5 million. www.thephone.coop


Merchant Navy Day

Merchant Navy Day on 3rd September honours the brave men and women who kept our island nation afloat during both World Wars, and celebrates our dependence on modern day merchant seafarers.

Here at Community Network we reach out to those connected to the Merchant Navy, helping retired seafarers participate in our Seafarers Link telephone communities. We know that many of our beneficiaries will be participating in local and national ceremonies this week.

This year we are ‘doing our bit’, joining local councils and others across the UK commemorating Merchant Navy Day at 10.00am, 3rd September 2015.  Our funding partner Seafarers UK is calling on the government to formally recognise Merchant Navy Day on 3rd September as the official day on which the UK’s historical and ongoing dependence on Merchant Navy seafarers is commemorated, and their special needs acknowledged.

Merchant Navy Memorial and Gardens, Bristol“In war and peace they toiled their trade

Over large angry seas,

Remember them as here you stand,

Beneath these placid trees”

Capt. J Earl

Words quoted above are from Bristol’s Merchant Navy Memorial, June 2000, plaque in the regenerated harbourside, Welsh Back, Bristol.  You can just see the river behind the memorial benches. Out of view in this photo is the flag pole with Red Ensign hoisted. The flag which represents the Merchant Navy will be displayed across the country during commemorations this week.


Telephone Communities

In October Mind, the mental health charity is hosting PeerFest, an event to celebrate the value of peer support for people who experience mental health problems. The event will also launch the findings Mind’s research into peer support in England.

There has been lots of talk about just what the term “peer support” means. There is no wrong or right answer and it means different things to different people. Simply put it is people coming together to help each other, to talk through shared experiences. It can be as informal as a chat over coffee or logging onto an online community such as Mind’s Elefriends.

Peer support is also what happens when people come together on the telephone in one of Community Network’s Telephone Communities. People “meet up” on the phone to talk about common interests. They may all be carers, retired seafarers or share a faith. Many people in our Telephone Communities have restricted mobility or don’t have the confidence to join face to face groups near their homes. Others join groups so they can share their experiences and support others in similar situations. Telephone Communities offer an easy, accessible way for such people to come together to talk, laugh share and help each other.

Mind’s PeerFest event is on Friday 25th October 2013 at City of Birmingham’s Symphony Orchestra Centre. You can sign up for PeerFest or get more information here.


Prevention is better

As a young person it is easy to assume that ailments suffered by older people are an inevitable part of growing old. Yet through my research for Community Network I have become more aware of the impact of loneliness on mental and physical health and the extent to which some of these ailments are preventable or can be slowed down. Studies have shown that loneliness can increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and Alzheimer’s and one went as far as to suggest that social relationships increase ones chance of survival. Rather than accept these health problems as a matter of course there needs to be greater focus on preventive measures and a change in our perception of aging and old age.

I am reminded of a recent debate on Question Time on the problems affecting the NHS. The panel did not mention health issues, for example heart disease, which cost the NHS a staggering £16 billion in 2004 alone and is Britain’s largest killer. No one would argue that coronary heart disease is inevitable, after all the NHS recommends simple lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of developing it, choices that can dramatically alter the picture of our health.

If a young person pictures an old person, the image is often of someone suffering from a debilitating disease or ailment. This does not acknowledge a reality where many ailments are not merely the consequences of age, but consequences of lifestyle. This pessimistic perception of old age is deeply damaging because it creates a mind-set where many ailments are deemed unavoidable.

Challenging loneliness can improve the mental and physical health of people in older age so that the risk of depression, high blood pressure, heart disease and so forth is reduced. Telephone groups are a great way for older people to engage with one another and an effective preventative measure. At the very least they provide confidence and inspiration for older people who are physically able to connect with a local community.

Of course, there are innumerable cases where dementia has caused a sudden and aggressive decline in the mental and physical capabilities of healthy and sociable people. Not all conditions of health can be prevented, pre-empted or slowed down, sometimes they just take their natural course. But the research shows that community engagement does improve circumstances and have a positive impact on health for many older people, just as simple lifestyle choices improve life for the young.