Don’t be a stranger

Loneliness is endemic in modern Britain, and Peterborough has some of the loneliest neighbourhoods in the country. Often prevalent among those in later life, chronic loneliness can impact both mental and physical health. So what can we do about it?

For a country steeped in tradition and famous for its close-knit communities it may come as a surprise that Britain is one of the loneliest places in Europe. Us Brits languish among the bottom of the league table for neighbourliness, while many admit to having no-one local to turn to in a crisis. Most people feel lonely at some point ibut long-term loneliness is becoming alltoo common, with widowed older people particularly at risk. Modern lives are busy, but a lot is being lost as we struggle to keep up. Often it’s the quick catch-ups and chats that fall by the wayside when time is tight, which can lead to serious consequences for those around us. You may think that those living cheek by jowl might be the least lonely, yet the loneliest neighbourhoods are often found in our cities.

Loneliness isn’t the same as social isolation – someone living on their own (socially isolated) may be quite content, whereas someone surrounded by people can feel desperately lonely. Peterborough has its share of lonely neighbourhoods; according to Age UK’s Loneliness heat map, three of the city’s wards sit within the top one percent of potentially lonely neighbourhoods. Loneliness isn’t just unpleasant, it’s bad for your health. Stress, depression, sleep problems, deteriorating mental health and hypertension are just a few of the risks associated. Loneliness can increase the likelihood of early death by up to a quarter and can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Those suffering from severe loneliness are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

What causes loneliness?
The reasons behind people feeling lonely are complex but often start with a lack of strong social relationships. Living alone, not having a partner, a lack of family and friends or having few opportunities to meet people all play their part. Poor health, sensory impairment, ethnicity, age and relative income may also have an impact. Even the condition of a neighbourhood s can influence a person’s perceived loneliness. Of course, loneliness in later life isn’t inevitable and today’s young adults aged 16-24 are far more likely to report feeling lonely than older people. Nevertheless, a recent report by the Office for National Statistics identifies widowed older homeowners living alone and with long-term health conditions as being most at risk. The Government is aware of the devastating impacts of chronic loneliness and has appointed a Minister to tackle this widespread condition. For most people loneliness is temporary but what can we do when feeling alone comes to define our lives?

Are you lonely?
If you feel lonely – well, you’re not alone! Online forums such as Gransnet, the busiest social networking site for the over 50s, are a great way to connect with others, even if you can’t get out as often as you’d like. Age UK offers two befriending services: Call in Time, where a volunteer befriender will call you for a chat, and face-to-face befriending for a cuppa and a chat in person. Locally the charity arranges a series of Day Clubs and Friendship Clubs where older people can meet up to enjoy each other’s company. Contact the Elderly organises monthly Sunday afternoon tea parties for small groups of older people aged 75 and over, who live alone, offering a regular and vital friendship link. Three groups operate in the Peterborough area. Other ways to get out and meet new people include volunteering, clubs based around hobbies and sports, and learning new skills through organisations such as the University of the Third Age (U3A).

Caring for the lonely
There’s a lot you can do to help lonely relatives, friends and neighbours. Reach out and be there for them; a friendly, supportive face means a lot. Offer to help where you can – with the shopping, by putting out the bins or simply by letting them know you are willing to listen. Regular visits to older people living on their own will brighten their day immeasurably. If you suspect someone is especially lonely then encourage them to seek the support they need, for example to access services set up to tackle loneliness. Help them on the way but be patient as gentle reassurance is often the best way to bring about sustainable change. Tackling loneliness isn’t complicated. It all starts with the most basic of human needs: a friendly smile and chat.

● Age UK loneliness support:
● Age UK Cambridgeshire and Peterborough:
● Contact the Elderly:
● Gransnet:
● Peterborough U3A:

There’s a lot going on in Peterborough. Here are a few ideas to get out and meet people.

Salvation Army Lunch Club Tues & Thurs, 12pm For those over 60 years of age. Limited places and booking required. ● Contact: 01733 564540,

South Grove Community Centre Lunch Club Three-course lunch club organised and cooked by Mario and Dina Schipani. They also offer activities in the community centre and can pick up attendees unable to travel themselves for a very small fee. ● Contact: 01733 551964, (search ‘South Grove Community Centre’)

Bharat Samaj Hindu Association Mon & Tues, 11.30am-1.30pm (lunch club) Prepares a weekly meal for the elderly Hindu community. The elderly can also attend temple, join in activities, while volunteers from the temple befriend those who can’t attend with hot meals and visits. ● Contact: 01733 315241/347188,

Senior Stop Café Mon-Sat Run by the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS), the Senior Stop Café in Cattle Market Road is somewhere for older people to drop in for a coffee and chat. The RVS also runs a car service charging a minimum of £4 to take older people to and from the town centre or appointments across Peterborough. ● Contact: 01733 307304

Age UK Friendship, Day and Lunch Clubs Every other Sun, 11am-2.30pm (Sunday Lunch Club) Various clubs at several locations across Peterborough. ● Contact: 0300 6669860,

The Cresset Lunch Club The well-attended Lunch Club at The Cresset in Bretton runs five days. ● Contact: 01733 265705

Alzheimer’s Society Lounge and café run by those with learning disabilities, plus a range of activities for those with dementia and their families to take part in. Takes place at the Dementia Resource Centre on Lincoln Road. ● Contact: 01733 893853,

Better Bretton Group of mainly older Bretton residents working to improve their community, including by creating new social networks for the elderly and by participating in activities such as street cleans and the Bretton Festival. ● Contact: (search ‘Better Bretton’)

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