By Cherril Cliff, Vice-Chair Leeds Older People’s Forum.                  

I was pleased to accept an invitation from Rachel Reeves MP, to attend the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness Round Table Event in Bramley on 2nd February 2017.

The meeting was very well attended, with representatives from around Leeds who are working to support lonely people of all ages.

Rachel Reeves MP talked about the tragic death of Jo Cox in 2016 and her passion to try and address the scourge of loneliness in modern times. Rachel has been honoured to pick up the mantel and take this important issue forward.

All the lonely people

According to the Red Cross, there are 9 million lonely older people in the UK and this is a shocking statistic. The plan is to talk to groups and individuals that work with lonely people and produce a working manifesto for Government.

The Commission will also mobilise the public to help themselves – educating people on how they can become the remedy – whether it be talking to a neighbour, visiting an old friend, or just making time for the people they meet.

The Commission will also target businesses and employer organisations and look at what action Local and National Government can take, to combat loneliness.

The next speaker was Councillor Rebecca Charlwood, Executive Member (Leeds City Council) for Adult Social Care, Health and Well-Being.  She explained that there are approximately 37,000 lonely older people in Leeds and the reasons can be personal, private and bereavement.

What’s being done in Leeds?

However, Leeds is lucky to have 37 Neighbourhood Networks and they currently support 21,000 older people and cover the entire city. Councillor Charlwood also spoke about the excellent work being undertaken by Leeds Older People’s Forum ‘Time to Shine’ work, funded by The Big Lottery Fund.

In addition work is taking place in schools, to support younger people.  Leeds City Council is pleased to be working with Jo Cox’s Loneliness Commission.

The meeting then received 3 short presentations.

Lee Ingham, Bramley Elderly Action, talked about different aspects of loneliness and including emotional loneliness.  He gave a bitter sweet case study, of a very lonely older lady that his charity has reached out to, with practical support.

Emily Georghiou, Age UK, explained her organisation’s work with lonely older people and the links with Leeds and the Time to Talk initiative, with the ‘No one should have no One’ ethos.

Her colleague, Heather O’Donnell, from Age UK Leeds, told the meeting about a very good hospital initiative they are involved with and, with Time to Shine funding, they can offer support at home, to people recently discharged from hospital.

Emily Axel, Time to Shine, gave a short, engaging presentation, explaining that 33 projects in Leeds are receiving funding, with the express intention of tackling loneliness and social isolation.  They are learning what is effective, via  thorough evaluation and working with small local groups.

Questions & Answers

The final part of the meeting was opened up for questions and answers and some very interesting contributions, highlighting innovative work with lonely people in Leeds and some of the challenges of identifying those who are in need of support and the perennial problem of funding.

Next steps

Rachel Reeves MP closed the meeting with thanks to those in attendance and that this is just the start of this important ‘call to action.’ She said that 13 partner organisations have already signed up to the Loneliness Commission and other groups can affiliate and have imput in the future.

Over the coming months ‘spotlights’ will highlight different issues nationally and the Loneliness Commission Manifesto will ‘knock on the door of Government.’ She concluded, by urging people to keep the conversation going and once again praised some of the excellent work taking place in Leeds.