Having heard the uncomfortable statistics about loneliness in their community, a group of young people made it their mission to help connect with elderly people. Over 359 calls and 2,100 minutes later, their new pen pal scheme was a huge success.
The group of young people, aged 16-17, have recently completed the ‘Keep Doing Good’ programme with Shrewsbury Town in the Community (STITC). The programme is part of the National Citizen Service’s (NCS) ‘One Million Hours of Doing Good’, a wider pledge to enable teens to take an active role in helping the country recover post COVID-19.
Statistics from Age UK suggest that 17 percent of older people in the UK are in contact with family, friends or neighbours less than once a week, and 11 percent in contact less than once a month.), Shrewsbury Town are part of 32 EFL Club Community Organisations who are tackling loneliness among older people, thanks to a grant of £810,000 from the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS).
Loneliness has been highlighted as a particular problem around Shrewsbury with Age UK for Shropshire estimating that 10,000 older people in the county are feeling "deeply lonely." When the young people heard about the shocking loneliness statistic, they wanted to do something to help.
As part of the two week programme the young people also successfully organised and launched a new Pen Pal scheme, aiming to connect older adults in their community by have a chat, checking on their wellbeing and offering a helping hand.
“Being at home throughout lockdown has been hard but I can’t imagine what it’s been like for those who are alone! I’ve really enjoyed being part of a team, tackling loneliness and making a difference." said Jenson, 16, who has been delighted to make a difference to people lives.
To support the group’s new pen pal scheme, Tesco Mobile donated 20 phones with credit so that they could start contacting elderly people, and eventually they could be passed onto those receiving the callsso they can use them to stay connected. Within five days, the pen pal scheme had 20 registered and the young people sent postcards, stamps, newsletters and free café vouchers to get them started.
Before making the calls, the young people received training from STITC’s Health Activator to ensure they were able to connect with individuals over the phone and gain the confidence to engage in conversations.
Jensen continued: “It’s been really good to get out and do something! I’ve spoken to over 40 people and they’ve all welcomed my calls, with some I was on the phone for over 20 minutes!
"I’ve also improved my confidence in talking to someone over the phone, while getting those in need of support back in to the community, I’m so pleased I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer and make a difference."
Anna, the NCS Coordinator at STITC is ecstatic at the achievement of the young people.
She said:“It’s absolutely amazing to see our young people dedicating their time to do something so amazing for those who are facing being alone day in and day out.
"The calls our young people are making are the life line that some of these people need. One of the ladies that we phoned was so thankful as she hadn’t spoken to someone for over 2 weeks and expressed how these calls are reassuring that someone is thinking about them during these times of uncertainty.”
In total, 756 collective hours have been volunteered by the Shrewsbury NCS participants to help tackle isolation and loneliness in their local area and up-skill themselves with workshops such as CV writing, interview skills and public speaking.