Join the Derbyshire Times' campaign to connect residents with older people desperate for a chat

The Derbyshire Times is launching a new campaign to help connect isolated older people with thoughtful individuals across the county.

Thursday, 11th February 2021, 7:00 am

Our Buddy Up! drive will highlight the wonderful work being done by local charities and organisations to combat loneliness – and encourage readers to volunteer some of their time to do things like making phone calls and writing letters to those who are in need of contact.

This important campaign has the backing of Age UK Derby and Derbyshire.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Wendy Walmsley, an Age UK Derby and Derbyshire Careline volunteer. We will be speaking to Wendy in the coming days to find out what it's like being a Careline volunteer.

Katy Pugh, chief executive of the charity, said: “I’m delighted that the Derbyshire Times is raising awareness about befriending services and their value to isolated older people experiencing loneliness at any time – but especially during the pandemic.

“Age UK Derby and Derbyshire has always recognised the impact of loneliness – research showed that chronic isolation and loneliness was as dangerous to your health and life expectancy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”

The charity delivers a range of services to tackle loneliness – and it is on the lookout for more volunteers to help with their vital work.

One of those services is Careline, which sees older people in the Erewash area getting regular phone calls from a small team of volunteers for friendly chats.

Cathy Lomax, Careline co-ordinator at Age UK Derby and Derbyshire.

Katy said: “The service has literally been a lifeline and we have linked clients to additional services such as shopping, and ensured clients understood lockdown rules and could follow them.

“Demand on the service has, as you can imagine, grown significantly and we need sufficient volunteers in order to manage current demand or accept more referrals.”

During the autumn, students at Trent College teamed up with Age UK Derby and Derbyshire to make some calls in a project developed by Cathy Lomax, Careline co-ordinator.

Katy said: “This gave students valuable social skills and clients a change of conversation.

The Derbyshire Times is launching a Buddy Up! campaign to encourage more people to sign up as befrienders.

“Since lockdown these relationships have continued with letters.”

Meanwhile, the Befriending Service operates in the High Peak and Derbyshire Dales, offering – in more normal times – face-to-face and telephone befriending.

Katy explained: “Clients and volunteers are matched based on their interests, personalities and backgrounds – and befriending relationships can last for many years and in most cases until a client dies.

“In many cases their befriender is the only person they see or hear from and the only person to really care, and these relationships provide mutual benefits.

Our Buddy Up! campaign aims to tackle loneliness.

“It is very rare now for a service to offer unlimited support in this way and clients value the reassurance and stability the befriending service provides.

“We need more volunteers to cope with additional demand since the pandemic and we anticipate greater demand for our services as unfortunately it will be inevitable that some older people will be bereaved and lack the support and companionship of their partner or family members.”

Early in the first lockdown, Katy developed the Coronavirus Letter Friends scheme, which asks volunteers to write an uplifting letter to an unknown recipient.

“The response has been fantastic,” she said.

“Writers find it quite therapeutic to write to someone they will never meet – a little like talking to a stranger on a train – and readers love to hear from ‘the outside world’ and have a little glimpse into someone else’s life.

“The letters are wonderful, some deeply moving, many very creative and some artistic with lovely pictures in the margins or at the bottom of the letters.

“The scheme continues to thrive and grow.

“Many readers want to write a letter back and develop a pen-friend relationship – and all the readers we asked said the letters had been uplifting and had an added value that unlike a single phone call or visit could be re-read again and again or at a difficult time as comfort.”

According to Age UK, there are more than one million chronically lonely older people in England and many more across the rest of the UK – making this a major issue which is now widely recognised in society today.

The Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions on all of our lives have made even more people feel lonely.

As part of our Buddy Up! campaign, staff at the Derbyshire Times – some of whom already have experience of telephone befriending during the pandemic – will be carrying out friendly chats with isolated older people.

Editor Nancy Fielder said: “Loneliness is the most miserable thing – it can cripple you with sadness.

“To be brutally honest, there have been times when I have wanted to cry at just how isolated thousands people in this county are – and I have spoken to many others who feel the same yet don’t know how to help.

“It is great to talk to your neighbour and do what you can for those you know – but what about everybody else out there with no family nearby?

“I am so excited about this campaign – it will make an incredible difference to the lives of Derbyshire people very quickly and very easily.

“There is no sense of happiness that compares to helping others and few things as agonising yet simple to ease as loneliness.

“Please get involved if you can.”

- For more information about Age UK Derby and Derbyshire – including how you can volunteer with the charity – visit www.ageuk.org.uk/derbyandderbyshire.

- If your Derbyshire charity or organisation offers befriending services and you would like to be featured as part of our Buddy Up! campaign, please email [email protected]

Editor’s message

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription at www.localsubsplus.co.uk or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.