Christmas now seems in the distant past and the cold, dark and lonely nights of winter stretch out before us. Traditionally, doors are opened over the festive season and extra chairs are pulled up around the dinner table; people think more about friends, family or people in their community who may be alone and in need of company. Now that January is here, the warmth and companionship of sharing a meal shouldn’t be a luxury only to be enjoyed at Christmas. Spare Chair Sunday aims to tackle the loneliness of solo eating and promote positive eating habits, all year round.
Loneliness linked to poor health
The Campaign to End Loneliness estimates that being lonely can increase the risk of conditions such as dementia, high blood pressure and depression. Their research also shows that lacking social connections has a comparable risk factor for early death to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is worse for us than well-known risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity.
Sadly, many over 70s living in the UK spend their days alone; too frail to leave their homes, elderly people can become isolated. This can impact on people’s daily meal routines; today, a staggering 40% of people over 70 find meals on their own so lonely that they decide to skip them altogether, with one in four skipping a meal every single day.
In addition, over a third of older people in the UK said they only got to eat a meal with family or friends once a month or less. Of those, 70% said they felt more cheerful and had a bigger appetite when they had company.
In light of this, one of the nation’s most loved brands, Bisto, and national charity, Contact the Elderly, are re-joining forces to bring back Spare Chair Sunday, a community initiative to help tackle the issue of loneliness by bringing people together over a home-cooked favourite, a Sunday roast. According to their survey, the home-cooked meal most requested by those over 70 was a roast dinner, with more than half declaring it their favourite meal. Spare Chair Sunday aims to encourage people to offer a spare chair at their dinner table for an older person in their community – plus their volunteer driver – who would otherwise eat alone.
To raise awareness of the initiative, four older people have been asked to share their fascinating life stories and collaborated with illustrator Mr Doodle to bring the stories to life on four limited edition chairs. The uniquely designed chairs can only be paid for with a simple act of kindness: signing up to Spare Chair Sunday.
When it was first launched in 2015, the Spare Chair Sunday campaign led to around 1,800 older people being able to share a meal with new friends. You can make a difference to an older person in your community by signing up to offer a spare chair at your Sunday dinner table, at any time of the year, at www.bistotogetherproject.com
This article is the latest in our series on Loneliness 2018 in Older People that we are running throughout the year.