Dec 13 2012 by Caitlin Black, Harrow Observer
CHRISTMAS is just around the corner. Shops are packed full of last minute shoppers. Motorways are crowded with people rushing to family reunions. The exciting buzz of the festive season makes everyone a little ecstatic.
But there are many people who have to spend the holiday season alone.
New research by Age UK has revealed that three and a half million people aged 65 and over will not get any help, support or companionship from neighbours, friends or family this Christmas.
Some 700,000 older people don’t even know their neighbours because they think they are too busy, the report says.
And as men and women grow old, their friends and family die, leaving them alone in the world, feeling isolated and upset.
Contact the Elderly is the only national charity solely focussed on tackling one of the greatest challenges facing society – loneliness and isolation among our rapidly ageing population.
Supported by a volunteer network, the charity organises free monthly Sunday afternoon tea parties for small groups of older people in the homes of volunteers in local communities across England, Scotland and Wales.
There are three groups in Harrow.
North London development officer Isabella Wise started volunteering when her father, who was also a volunteer passed away. She now works for the charity.
She said: “Christmas is the time of the year where the elderly feel much more lonely, people get together with their families and some of our members don’t have any family or friends left.
“Some are very isolated and don’t like going outdoors much, so the tea parties are really comforting for them, it gives them something to look forward to.
“We host one tea party a month and in December we have a Christmas theme tea party, where we get one of our volunteer hosts to put up a little tree with decorations.”
For 85-year-old John, Contact the Elderly tea parties have provided new friendships and a support network following the death of his wife five years ago.
“I’ve never had anything given to me in my life, and I can’t believe how kind people have been to me since I’ve been part of Contact the Elderly,” he said. “It’s absolutely marvellous. Losing my wife has been very hard, but the tea parties have helped to make a big difference.”
With more than 470 groups nationwide, the charity provides a regular, consistent and vital friendship link to more than 3,800 older people, aged 75 and over.
“These days families are different,” said Isabella. “Christmas used to be much more about the whole family spending time together. It is still like that in most places, but people are much more busy, children travel a lot more now and live away from home, work and general life is busier, there are time pressures.
“On Sundays shops never used to be open, whereas now pretty much all shops are open on Sundays.
“But I think the main cause of the elderly being lonely is the fact that people live a lot longer now as we all are much healthier.
“However, there are some families that just don’t make an effort with their older relatives. It’s sad and frustrating at times. I have a member who has family only a 15-minute drive away. There is just no excuse for not visiting them, even just once in a blue moon, it would make such a difference to their lives.
“Contact the Elderly runs throughout the year, we try to help as many people as possible. Sometimes we see relationships and love stories come out of it, which is so lovely. The charity does a very good job of trying to add that extra bit of comfort to an older person’s life.”
n For more information about Contact the Elderly visit www.contact-the-elderly.org.uk or call 020 7240 0630.