Good morning

Beating the summer time blues

Good morning Angels!” chirped Lance on joining the call. “You sound very lively today,” Edith observed of Lance.

It’s August, pouring with rain and peak holiday time. You’re in a longer than normal airport queue. Heading abroad to a central or southern Europe heatwave, or have arrived and find yourself on full forest fire alert. Maybe it’s time to pack your wellies and waterproofs ready to huddle together at a UK resort. More like “Good morning campers!” perhaps.

For Lance, Edith and their telephone group friends a staycation is the routine. Holidays are things that happen for others now. And summertime, just as much as Christmas holidays, can amplify feelings of loneliness, summertime blues. . . unless of course you meet up regularly with friends in your telephone group.

Having the privilege to be a guest facilitator for this group I found myself on an entertaining journey as members exchanged life experiences. We went from Guyana to Gamages, London Eye to the Lyons Tea House and had croissants watching the women’s Tour de France (“I didn’t know they had a ladies’ tour until it went past my window.”). The hour whizzed by, just like the cyclists.

Our holiday was virtual. All in the mind. Happy times conjured up by telephone group participants’ conversations sparking off so many connected memories. A sense of belonging created. The worth of peer supporting telephone communities, for me, richly affirmed.

In the happy knowledge that Lance, Edith and the others will have their volunteer facilitator, Shani, back with them again later this month, I’m off now to pack my tent. I’ll be pitching this, weather permitting, whilst on holiday in the Wye Valley,. The campsite’s river is rising and I’ve been told there’s limited telephone reception. But don’t worry, I’ll be encouraging fellow campers to store memories to share with friends in future years . . . to share in telephone groups of course.

Myth busting loneliness – part one

Being lonely is not a character flaw

Man standing alone by a lake

I’ve spoken before about the stigma attached to loneliness. I keep coming back to it because this type of prejudice prevents people getting the support they need to feel connected again.

There is a persistent myth that stops people from saying “I’m lonely. It is a myth that assumes that if you are lonely it is your own fault – something you have done wrong, that you are not trying hard enough, not friendly enough or good enough.

However, feeling lonely is a big part of being human. Loneliness is designed to tell us we’ve become disconnected, that we need to find other humans who we can bond and share with. It is telling us to find our people.

The challenge often comes in finding those who can make us feel connected again. Perhaps this is why any list of tips for banishing loneliness (including ours) mentions volunteering. Doing something to help others has been shown to boost confidence and it gives you a chance to broaden your social circle. You might not meet your people on day one, but you might meet someone who will introduce you to someone else who will be the person you can share confidences with, celebrate successes and have a giggle.

There is no quick, one size fits all way to stop feeling lonely, but if you need a safe space to share with others we will try to help. If you would like to try out one of our Talking Communities drop us an email to info@community-network.org or call us on 020 7923 5250.

Volunteering and the difference it makes

At Community Network we work hard to create volunteering experiences that offer people an opportunity to gain some positive, in return for the time, skills and effort they give. Volunteering can improve self-worth, increase confidence and can help people to gain paid employment.

Ryan, aged 21 joined the team in November 2013 as a volunteer administrator. He was really keen to get a job but lacked the work experience many employers were looking for.

“It seemed like a good way to gain skills and I thought it would be good to help a charity out.”

During his time with Community Network, Ryan’s communication skills improved and he found himself becoming more confident. He was also able to do a wide range of tasks, including collecting mail, data entry, answer phones and use software such as Salesforce.
Although sad to see him go, we were all delighted when Ryan recently secured an apprenticeship in administration. Ryan felt that his time with Community Network had helped him to find work.

“It just shows that voluntary work can make all the difference!”

Volunteering voices

I came across Community Network through Arthritis Care via Age UK.

For many years the blip in my life has been rheumatoid arthritis and since 2005 I have been delivering self-management programmes for Arthritis Care and also the Expert Patient Programme.

In the summer of 2012 I was approached by Arthritis Care to train as a facilitator for group telephone courses set up by Community Network in partnership with Age UK called Fit as a Fiddle. I facilitated two of these courses and from the start was aware of the major difference between the face-to-face and telephone groups. Why has the idea of the social conference call taken so long to evolve? A group of 5 or 6 people in one telephone conversation, for one hour every week or fortnight, discussing a number of mutually agreed topics. The participants can live anywhere in the UK. All that is needed is for them to be at the end of a telephone line. It’s such a brilliant concept that I ask again why has it taken so long to evolve?

The whole enterprise is run by the marvelous Community Network. This very efficient and most worthwhile organisation obtains its resources from charitable donations, funding bids and their work as a social enterprise. I am very happy and proud to be associated with this superb charity. The staff are brilliant, as is the whole concept.

I have facilitated several courses now, fixed term and on-going, and hope to be able to continue this simple but hugely satisfying task of picking up a telephone and having a chat with friends. The other self-management courses still have their place as face-to-face work is very important, and I will continue to deliver for both Expert Patient Programmes and Arthritis Care. However, I have been absolutely converted to the telephone conference call courses. I have a simple message for you – join one!

Don, Community Network telephone group facilitator

A volunteer’s perspective

Hello, I’m James, the new Social Inclusion volunteer here at Community Network.

At last, the sun is shining and the mood is warm! In spite of this belated, sunny atmosphere that pulls us out of a long winter of discontent, many pensioners continue to remain indoors, immobile and socially isolated. This month saw the memorial of a high profile pensioner, both revered and despised. But regardless of our personal politics the death of Margaret Thatcher serves to remind us of the importance of older people, the impact they once had and their continued presence and value in society. In spite of innovations in technology and the rapid growth of social media that make connecting with one another easier than it has ever been many, particularly older people, still suffer from social isolation and loneliness.  One study by Age UK reported that 34% of subjects over the age of 65 felt lonely some, most or all of the time.

The Community Network team here in Islington is small, but effective in reaching a large number of elderly people who have few others to turn to. I am fortunate enough to be volunteering in the Social Inclusion team with the cheerful Chris as my guide. Part of my role here will be acquiring feedback from the service users so that we can deliver a better user experience. This has given me the opportunity to converse with people from a diverse range of backgrounds, all of whom are grateful for the opportunity to talk for an hour a week through our telephone groups. I will also source data and research on loneliness and social isolation in the London and Islington area so that donors and interested parties can better understand the health and mental well-being consequences. You will also see me update the blog at some point soon too!

That is all from me for now though. Enjoy the sunshine!

James