How would you feel if you went a week without seeing or speaking to anyone? According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, over half of those aged 75 and over live alone and 17% of older people have contact with family and friends less than once a week. For many people, loneliness defines their later life and has a significant impact on their health & wellbeing.
Southampton's older people are at high risk of experiencing loneliness and social isolation, which has a devastating effect on health, resulting in numerous physical and mental health problems, such as depression. Lonely individuals are more likely to visit their GP, have higher use of medication and a higher incidence of falls. It is estimated that 5,482 over 65s in Southampton currently experience high levels of loneliness and with a predicted 17% rise in the city’s older population by 2024 there is an urgent need to tackle this problem.
We believe that growing older shouldn’t mean a life of loneliness. Our Visiting Volunteer service matches isolated older people with volunteers to provide companionship, confidence-building and support to join in with local activities. Our relationships with local organisations enable us to identify hard to reach members of the community who would benefit most from our help.
After referral, our Wellbeing Service carries out a home visit to assess the older person’s needs. Through our person-centred approach we can assess a person’s suitability for a visiting volunteer, and put in place the support they need, which may also be through our group activities, benefits advice, or exercise classes. Many of our older people are at key transitions in their life such as following the death of a partner, or on release from hospital. Our support helps them adjust to their change of circumstances and build up their confidence. Most of the older people we meet have long-term physical and mental health issues or difficult personal circumstances that require careful consideration.
Once someone has been assessed as suitable for the service they will be matched with a volunteer who has undergone a rigorous selection procedure of face-to-face interview, reference checks, DBS check, and a training and induction programme to prepare them for their role. We match older people and volunteers based on a number of factors including availability, interests and location.
Our volunteers have the unique opportunity to understand the daily challenges older people face, acting as our eyes and ears to detect changes in the person they are visiting.
We have a growing waiting list for this service, and it is vital that we recruit more volunteers to increase the capacity of our visiting team, including training Mentors to support the training of new Visiting Volunteers, and the training of volunteers who assist with the administration and matching process so that clients and volunteers are kept safe, and relationships are rewarding and sustainable. We matched over 50 volunteers with lonely people last year and with this investment, we aim to double the volume and intensify our service across those parts of the city that are most at risk of loneliness, by the end of July 2019.