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It feels like Close to Hand is coming of age, if you excuse the pun. Earlier this month I was invited to speak with the Government about how our online service catering for independent seniors is helping to tackle loneliness amongst our older population.
Speaking with the team responsible for addressing this crippling epidemic, it was clear to me that we have a valuable role to play in bringing people together. Our aim is simple; provide a platform for local people to connect, enabling local, flexible, meaningful work that offers practical help and companionship to our older generations and in turn tackle loneliness.
Reaching our first milestone
Having only launched the website this spring to older people looking for help and companionship, it was a landmark moment to be called to Parliament Street to meet the newly appointed Minister for Loneliness, Tracey Crouch’s team. Driven by the same desire to banish isolation, they were keen to hear our ideas, our stories of successful connections and our ambitions to grow.
The difficult thing about loneliness is that it’s hidden, it’s a secret, it’s a silent killer. More than half of British adults (56%) say admitting to loneliness is difficult, that’s according to a Censuswide survey commissioned last year by the End Loneliness Campaign.
Tracey’s team wanted to know how we could reach the lonely with a service like Close to Hand and how we could make a difference. I explained how we founded the business after identifying a real gap in services for independent older people – people at home on their own. What we’ve learned is that the lonely don’t always admit to feeling that way and that even those with family at home or on the doorstep felt cut off at times.
Take my Grandma Julia, for example, who was one of the first people to register on the site; she’s lucky enough to have a loving family around her and we all pop in regularly, but that didn’t stop her from feeling lonely. She didn’t want to ‘trouble’ any of us, saying she was aware of our busy lives. In that way, her Home Helper Hannah is a blessing to the whole family, as she can be there when we can’t and as it’s a paid arrangement Grandma has no reservations in asking Hannah to come over whenever she needs her. As a very proud lady Grandma didn’t want to be seen to be taking ‘charity’.
Julia says ‘my world has got bigger with Hannah in it’; she can enjoy more time in the garden having a helping hand with the weeding, more time out of the house with Hannah by her side and more time enjoying conversation.
Making a difference
When asked about how Close to Hand could have a measurable impact, I cited the Compassionate Frome project, launched in 2013 by Helen Kingston, a GP there. Drawing comparisons with this incredibly simple, but ground-breaking project, I made the point that Close to Hand was living proof that we can bring communities together and reverse the damaging effects of loneliness.
Provisional data from Compassionate Frome appears to show that when isolated people who have health problems are supported by community groups and individuals, the number of emergency admissions to hospital falls spectacularly. While across the whole of Somerset emergency hospital admissions rose by 29% during the three years of the study, in Frome they fell by 17%.
Local friendships are forming
I spoke at length about the variety of people Close to Hand was reaching via registered Home Helpers offering everything from respite care for main carers, post-op help, light gardening and housework and most of all providing companionship. As a result of enabling connections between people we are finding that lasting local friendships are forming.
Changing perceptions of ageing
Our campaign and passion to change perceptions of ‘old people’ also came up in our meeting. We’re advocates of an intergenerational approach and encourage social interactions between the younger and older members of our communities.
We believe that older people are amongst the most interesting and valuable people on the planet: it’s time to rethink ageing, embrace our own advancing years and interact more with our elders, because somewhere along the way we’ve lost sight of this.
Keeping the conversation going
It was a great first meeting and I left Westminster feeling hugely uplifted and full of determination to help put an end to loneliness. We will continue our conversations with the Government to share strategies and offer real life examples of positive change.
Our ambition is to help overcome loneliness and bring back community spirit, one connection at a time.