Tackling loneliness amongst older people.
In 1948, William Beveridge, the founder of the modern welfare state, recognised that the system he had designed, while successful in alleviating issues such as ignorance, bad housing and poor physical health, had done little to meet the emotional and mental health needs of the nation. In fact, Beveridge himself, later in his life, produced a paper that highlighted the issue of loneliness. 60 years after the first Beveridge Report, the modern welfare state still struggles to find solutions to these problems. Since 1948, while the UK has become richer, it has not become happier. Depression, for example, is set to become the second leading cause of disability by 2020.
Currently, in Greater London, 250,000 people over 65 do not see a friend, neighbour or family member, at least once a week and 150,000 have no contact with friends, family or neighbours at least once a month. Those figures rise to 3.1 million and 1.8 million, respectively, UK-wide. Loneliness and social isolation can have severe social, financial, physical and mental repercussions, not only for the elderly themselves but also for the families and for the welfare systems that support them. The elderly, and all those who help care for them, are thus looking for solutions that address the twin problems of loneliness and social isolation.
Current solutions are letting down the older population. They are not working, not addressing the issue of loneliness, as seen by the numbers of lonely in the UK. Whilst there are some good befriending services, there are long waiting lists, poor matching between people and infrequent conversations, which often make matters worse. Day care centre’s are expensive, only open during office hours (as a rule) and the only thing everyone has in common is their age.
In March 2008, Participle developed a working partnership with Westminster City Council to design and prototype new services that combat social isolation and loneliness amongst the elderly. Over a 6 month period, Participle worked with over 50 socially isolated and lonely people in two wards within Westminster, giving us a unique insight into their worlds. We spent time with Westminster Council service delivery partners, such as meals-on-wheels, mobile libraries and sheltered and residential housing units.
Working with and for these individuals, we designed a new service called Get-Together. It is a service that provides telephone-based and in-person social networks for lonely and socially isolated older people. It will do this by facilitating telephone introductions between like-minded individuals, by running weekly telephonic group meetings based around shared interests, and by arranging face-to-face group meetings and activities for Get-Together members.
Participle piloted the full service, with 22 participants, over a 2 month period. We developed the matching technology to profile member’s interests, rented the conference calling technology, trained ourselves up in hosting the calls, we ran phone groups almost every night of the week and weekend, organised transport for people to meet-up and organised visits to galleries and gardens. We worked with local third sector organisations to help deliver parts of the service, namely the phone group hosting and travel arrangements. It was a fully functioning service.
For more information on Get-Together, please link to the video.
Get-Together has proven itself to be highly successful and is based on two new unique innovations:
Firstly, it matches supply and demand amongst older people themselves. Thus, it uses a different volunteering model, the size of which does not affect the success of the service;
Secondly, it empowers the lonely older person to determine their own needs, and match these against the type of people they interact with, in a variety of contexts, and at their own pace. It gives older people more choice and more say;
Get-Together will launch mid 2010 across London. During the winter there will be a full press campaign. The campaign will have the slogan ‘Fight Loneliness Amongst the Elderly.’ Although available across London, we will focus the launch in 6 London hub areas – Richmond, Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster, Lambeth, Haringey and Barking & Dagenham.
Afterwards, the service will be launched throughout the UK.