The aim of this workshop was to explore how people can be reconnected with others when they may have become isolated, lonely and/ or find it increasingly difficult to participate in their local networks. Loss of connection may have occurred for a broad variety of reasons including (but not exclusively) bereavement, loss of employment, loss of parental role as children leave home, loss of health, for example.
The starting point of this workshop was to identify older people as both resourceful and holding resources in their own right – rejecting the conception of old age as somehow presenting society with a burden to be carried by others.
The workshop explored what is currently available – what works well, or not so well. Following on from this, barriers to connecting with others were considered and finally there was an attempt to identify new ways of assisting people to connect with others in meaningful ways.
The key themes of this workshop that emerged were:
- Reciprocity is important to people, to feel that they are not passive recipients of ‘services’ but actively involved with others with whom they share understandings, stories, skills, ideas and fun.
- A sense of purpose, feeling valued and useful is an important reason to connect with other people.
- Feeling listened to and able to share ideas, experiences, thoughts, skills is also vital when creating new connections (or sustaining existing ones).
- Personal contact with other people – usually face to face, but other methods telephone, skye, email, letters can work for people too – is crucial. Befriending was given as an example of this.
- Inviting people to join with others, and making sure that people are welcomed into groups or new relationships (importance of ‘soft skills’).
- The way many people live today tends to encourage people to live individually in ‘silos’ , behind closed doors with a lack of communal contact with others. Creating opportunities for connection therefore has to be worked out and offered in a range of different and flexible ways.
Examples of what works well:
Groups of people meeting together for the purpose of an activity – doing things together, rather than just talking can be an easier way of meeting people and making new connections, friendships as it is less intense than coffee and talk groups. However, there was significant evidence within the workshop of coffee groups in locations perceived as neutral to be very popular and running out of space.
Pastoral locations – such as religious groups have provided connections for people with their communities by providing not just a place to meet and activity of worship and other activities with others, but also an outreach element, where a person might be missing from the activity would be noticed and someone may go and see them at home. This was seen to be an important resource to respond flexibly as needs change. Can this level of concern be replicated in new forms of supportive groups?
Accessibility – person may have disabilities that make connection more difficult – need to be able to respond to these on an individual level.
Transport to and from locations can be a barrier in terms of both cost and the confidence to use public transport (and its availability)
Not knowing where to go or where activities and meeting opportunities are – lack of accessible information, lack of IT training and IT resources that suit the person
Venues – in terms of accessibility but also in terms of meaning – importance of neutral venues that are welcoming to all, irrespective of religion, background, experience
Anxiety and lack of confidence in meeting new people
Fear of going out (after dark for example, fear of falls etc.)
Potential ideas to Develop
- Buddying systems to introduce newcomers into groups (need to be mindful that this needs to be done on a voluntary basis, as participants who are well known to the group also need to feel that they can use their time at the group to meet their own needs and not feel ‘put upon’)
- Exploring new and neutral venues where people can meet together – the new ‘public’ spaces, such as supermarkets – good places to advertise ‘what’s on’ and also the possibility of community rooms?
- Reciprocity – sharing meals, getting together with others at home as well as in neutral spaces – using a model similar to ‘Host’ an organisation that puts people in touch with one another for the purpose of mutual exchange – an offer of a tea and chat, or a show around the local area, or sharing food together bringing together people who might be new to an area with older people (intergenerational) *
- Skills and resource sharing – finding ways where people can form friendships and support one another through – facilitating this in responsive ways
*This idea was added in at the end of the session by one of the participants from another group
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