We all know that loneliness is a real concern around the festive season and if many knew a neighbour or relative was going to be alone, they would offer some company and a meal. It is also very hard for many older people to admit that they are lonely and to ask to share what is often seen as family time.
To bring together the two is not as easy as it may seem, mainly through pride on the behalf of the lonely and lack of awareness on the other.
But for those who have little social contact due to restricted mobility or confidence, it can be a time of isolation. Sometimes plans are changed at the last minute, and a person on their own will not admit to being let down.
There are many charities and organisations who take this seclusion very seriously and actively work to identify those who need company and comfort at Christmas. No one should ever feel that they are asking for charity if they need company, as the pleasure of spending time with other people is a two-way benefit. There are hundreds of people with no family commitments who are happy to help out at community centres serving those who would not otherwise be entertained.
In late February the Campaign to End Loneliness and Independent Age brought together over 40 charities, care services and neighbourhood groups to talk about loneliness at Christmas, and to start to think about what they could do in 2014. It is the experience of many organisations like Crisis at Christmas, the Abbeyfield Society and Community Christmas that effective support for older people cannot come together just before the season begins.
They wanted to talk about some of the challenges that charities, faith groups and other services faced with providing support for older people who might be alone on Christmas Day. They also wanted to focus on some of the opportunities that the season presents – from recruiting new volunteers, to reaching the most isolated adults in our communities.
Two separate surveys done by The Royal Voluntary Service and Friends of the Elderly highlighted the scale believed to have spent Christmas Day alone, with 15 per cent of older people saying they dreaded the day because it reminded them of those who were no longer with them. The research by the RVS found the most common reason older people are lonely at Christmas was family living far away, or even in a different country altogether.
Attitudes towards older people were also included in the questionnaire, and it was found nearly one in four admitted they won’t be including any elderly relatives, neighbours or community members in their seasonal celebrations and activities. When asked what prevents them from visiting the elderly 44 per cent said that they don’t have enough time for them.
Others said it is because they don’t speak to their children anymore, or because they won’t want to put their busy family under any more pressure at Christmas. Sadly, a small number of older people admit they simply haven’t been invited to spend the day with anyone.
Nearly half (45 per cent) of over 75s, say they think families are fragmented now and under a lot of pressure and older people easily forgotten. Technological advances, although welcomed by charities for those times when face to face contact isn’t possible, it seems has replaced an actual visit with 47 per cent saying technology means people make less effort to actually see each other face-to-face.
Royal Voluntary Service and Community Christmas are calling on anyone who has an event, or who are offering support to older people on Christmas Day to register it now at communitychristmas.org.uk or ring 0844 443 0662 for more information.
But everyone can make a difference – simply checking in on an older neighbour regularly, popping a card through their door or having a chat with them at the shops only takes a moment and can make a real difference to their sense of inclusion.
If you know you are going to be on your own do contact your local church, community centre or library where public information is available on local activities. There are plenty of organisations who can point you in the right direction to share Christmas with others.
So check with local groups, community centres and churches to see if you can help out over Christmas or on Christmas Day. There may be lunches laid on that need volunteers to help out on the day and with transport to the venue.
I was born and brought up in a village so we usually knew who was going to be alone and made sure that they were invited somewhere. My father used to go to the local pub just before lunch and round up anyone who did not have a seat round the Christmas table. Our poor mother usually had to find an extra chair and plate, but there was always plenty of food and good cheer.
Remember that sharing is a gift for both the giver and receiver and whether you celebrate the Christian festival or other religious feast, we can all share our time and happiness.
Happy Christmas one and all!
Tina Foster – Deputy Editor