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Responding to loneliness

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This is a text-only version of an article first published on Wednesday, 20 December 2017. Information shown on this page may no longer be current.

Increasing numbers of church leaders cite loneliness as a significant problem according to a 2014 Church Urban Fund survey.

Loneliness: Accident or Injustice , launched last month, commissioned by the Oxford Diocese's Social Responsibility Adviser, Alison Webster, and researched and written by the journalist, Jo Ind, explores Christian responses to the issue.

Here are some edited extracts, and new stories.

Younger people: David's story

David, 21, doesn't do parties.

The graduate from Reading University lip-reads because he lost his hearing when he had meningitis at the age of two.

As it's almost impossible to lip-read in a group, it makes parties a challenge. "If I'm in a group I tend to stay at the back because I can't hear what's going on at the centre.

That makes me feel as though I'm on the outside looking in," he says.

"I told myself I didn't mind not going to parties, but then I'd find I wasn't invited and I'd think: 'Why wasn't I invited?' It would be nice to feel that someone was inviting me. "On his first day at Reading, David discovered the chaplaincy, a homely place where you could go to be quiet or chat or just chill. "The kind of people you find at the chaplaincy are people who also feel on the outside of groups," says David.

"People go there to find a connection with somebody and that's what I would find there.

It's where I met Mark

who became my confidant and counsellor. "The chaplaincy at Reading University is a cottage on the campus managed by chaplains from a range of denominations.

It offers activities, like meditation and bread-making, but it's also a space where people can talk or catch up on sleep.

"The chaplaincy is a little place of belonging," says Mark.

"There aren't many of those left on the campus now.

Broadly speaking when people come to university, they are awaiting the emergence of character - of being able to say 'This is who I am' and finding others who are like them.

We become a temporary holding place while this happens. "David says he used to be lonely.

"When I was a teenager, I was overweight and behind my computer all the time.

I needed company. "But he isn't lonely now.

"I think loneliness is a state of mind," he says.

"I've got a few very close friends.

Even people who know lots of people and go to lots of parties have only got a few very close friends.

So I'm no different from anyone else.

And what do you need to be happy? You don't need lots of things.

You just need to be glad to be alive. "

Older people: Gerry's story

"If it wasn't for the church, I honestly think I would have just chucked it all in.

Three years ago in October, my wife passed away but it feels like yesterday.

People just don't understand what loneliness is.

When my wife died, a part of me died too.

Shutterstock "We were married for 46 years.

You just can't explain the sheer loneliness of those who are left behind.

I didn't know whether I was coming or going.

Every time I go out of the house I'm reminded of my wife.

That doesn't help with going out.

It's the silly things.

I go to Marks & Spencer and there's a jumper hanging up that's light blue.

My wife loved light blue and light green.

I think: 'My wife would have liked that. ' And then I go home and everything in the house reminds me of my wife as well.""When my wife died I didn't think there was a God.

If there was a God why had he taken my wife from me? Why? Why? She didn't smoke.

She didn't drink.

If this coffee shop hadn't been here, I don't know what I would have done.

I went to my GP and asked him for a shot in the arm to end it all.

But then the coffee shop opened and now I come here every day."One day Phil asked if I had thought about going to church.

I said: 'Not a lot. ' But after a bit, I thought, 'Why not?' And so I went and then I went on an Alpha course.

That was really, really good.

I could ask the question of why my wife had been taken from me and now I think maybe she went so she could do some good elsewhere.

Now I don't need to ask that question any more.

I'm so pleased I went. "Now I help out in the coffee shop.

I do the washing up.

It's something for me to do.

I'm lucky I can still get about.

I didn't know how many really nice people there are around.

I've known some people who are - well, I don't want to swear - but you know what I mean? If only all the people in the world could understand what loneliness is.

Please could you put over to people what loneliness is like? If people knew, the world would be a heck of a lot better.

We wouldn't just be friendly to one or two people, we would be friendly to everyone. "Gerry, aged 74, lives in Broughton, Buckinghamshire.

He was speaking at the More + coffee shop founded by Broughton Church.

Read how an old Blockbuster video store was refurbished to create the More + Coffee Shop in Broughton here https://www. oxford. anglican. org/mission-action/

Focus on the Farming Community Network (FCN)

"By its very nature, farming is a solitary activity, when you work on a farm, you tend to work alone," says Fi, who has a mixed farm in Oxfordshire.

"If you plough a field, you're spending eight hours a day on a tractor on your own.

But that doesn't mean we're lonely.

I don't feel lonely because I feel at one with nature.

There's no joy like the joy of a beautifully ploughed field. . . "

Shutterstock The solitary nature of farming only becomes an issue in desperate times.

If farmers are facing financial ruin they are left with no one to talk to.

Lyn Kemsley, FCN helpline co-ordinator, says approximately half those who call the helpline are managing farms on their own.

"Farmers don't congregate in the way they used to," says Glyn Evans, FCN regional director for Central England.

"Many are farming by themselves, so they can't afford to stay for a chat and a drink when they go to market. "The sense of isolation is intensified by feeling at the mercy of those who don't understand farming.

"We know we are at the mercy of the weather and we handle that," says Fi.

"It's being at the mercy of DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) that drives some farmers to desperation and even suicide. "For example, most farmers depend on the Basic Payment Scheme, for which they have to declare what is produced on every acre of their farm on a form with maps.

The form was totally revised in 2014 and farmers were told they had to complete it online - even though many do not have access to broadband and some are not IT literate. "Advice fielded down from DEFRA was to 'get an agency to do it for you', but do you know how much agencies charge? £250 per hour and it takes days," explains Fi.

The system collapsed, DEFRA admitted it had made a mistake, asked farmers to submit the maps by post - but then said payment would be delayed by up to four months. "This is the sort of scenario that turns coping into desperation," said Fi.

"If only it were not a 'one off' situation. "There is another kind of loneliness experienced by farmers when they have to give up their farms and the intimate relationship with nature that has sustained them.

Lyn says there are an increasing number of requests to the helpline from care homes asking for someone to come and talk to residents about farming.

"When farmers go to live in care homes, they are cut off from the way of life they have known all of their lives," she says.

"They need somebody to talk to about the countryside. "

A rural diocese

The Diocese of Oxford is classed as rural.

It's estimated 75 per cent of the population in Oxfordshire, 40 per cent in Buckinghamshire and 85 per cent in West Berkshire live in a rural community. • Broadband is not available in many rural areas.

The average download speed in urbanareas is 40 MB per second, compared with 14 MB per second in rural areas. • People in rural areas receive less social care per head than those in urban areas. Expenditure across the 12 inner London boroughs in 2009-10 was £1,750 per personaged 65+ compared to £773 per capita across the 27 shire counties. Help is available:Local churches, agricultural chaplains, and the three Farming charities - FCN, RABI and Addington - can provide support so that farmers experiencing loneliness and other difficulties need not struggle on in silence but can find help.


The FCN Helpline 03000 111 999 can signpost them to this help.

Coming soon: a board game café and a dementia friendly service

TWO new projects organised since the publication of Loneliness: Accident or Injustice, are being launched at St Nicolas Church, Earley, in Reading. The first is a board game café, organised by Maggie Carter, who is a member of the pastoral team at St Nicolas's.

"We wanted to make the church more amenable for people who don't normally come, who may live on their own and not necessarily see anyone during the course of the day.

Shutterstock "Someone suggested a board game café and the PCC approved it.

People will get together once a fortnight to play games, read newspapers and drink tea and coffee," said Maggie.

Volunteers will make the drinks while people play games that have been donated by congregation members, including Scrabble, back gammon and snakes and ladders.

From a Facebook advert, 30 or 40 people have already said they are interested.

The first café takes place on Tuesday 1 March at St Nicolas's Church, Sutcliffe Avenue. The next is a new Holy Communion service for those living with dementia and their families.

The monthly event is being spearheaded by Helen Brown, whose late mother had the condition, and was cared for at home by her father.

"Looking back I realised how fortunate they were with friends and contacts.

They both had outgoing personalities and were good at forming and maintaining friendships.

I am aware that not everyone is so fortunate.

There are plenty of separate reports on the internet that say the same thing - there is often increasing isolation and loneliness both for the person with dementia and the carer; one cause of this may be that they have withdrawn from once regular activities. So Helen and a team at St Nicolas are planning a short Holy Communion service followed by tea and cake.

"We hope people will form relationships and it will be somewhere they can come and feel comfortable.

We want it to be a social environment where people can relate to God and to other people," says Helen.

"One of the curates is looking into the liturgy and has found one that a church in New Zealand has been using. "Posters have been put up in the local library, as well as in care homes, churches and other venues. "A year ago when I was doing research into this, a professional said that anything we could put on would be wonderful as there is a real shortage of events for this group. "However, as a church we can offer so much more than just activities and social interaction, valuable as those are: we can offer a relationship with God and hope for the long term future. "The first service takes place on Wednesday 9 March at 2. 30pm.

The service will then be held at the same time on the first Wednesday of every month.

Order your copy

Order copies of Loneliness: Accident or Injustice from Alison Webster or by calling 01865 208213.

Alison Webster (left) and Jo Ind.

Page last updated: Wednesday 20th December 2017 12:00 AM
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