06 May 2022

Supporting people to overcome loneliness and isolation in Barnsley

Carol Cotton from Barnsley Methodist Circuit shares her experience of helping people to overcome loneliness and isolation.

I started work as a project and community worker with older people in September 2020 during lockdown, which just like for lots of people, was a really tricky time to start a job which had in its title 'projects'!

A group of people at church enjoying a meal together.

Initially I contacted local charities, who worked with older people to see what they were offering during the lockdowns – to learn from them and understand what the need was.  I and a team of volunteers decided to take a harvest gift out to people, beginning with people we knew via the Church. 

This grew to 100 Christmas lunches and gifts, plus a buffet tea for New Year’s Day, some of these people having been referred to us by local charities.  It started to snowball with other charities referring people to us - numbers of people we are visiting is over 200 with more than 60 volunteers supporting us.

After the Christmas and New Year projects in 2020 we followed with more events in 2021 - Valentine’s Day, May, July with a Wimbledon theme, harvest, and Christmas again. This year we have so far offered gifts at Valentine’s and Easter.  Examples of our gifts include strawberries, cream, scones, sun hat, card and spring readings or hot cross buns, Easter Eggs, card, knitted Easter basket, cross and readings.

This Easter was our last delivery, as many people are now able to be out and about.  We have just had an Easter Party Day with games, crafts, a two course lunch and musical afternoon and we have offered transport to get people there.  We will seek to organise other one-off events over the year. For those who are still housebound some of the volunteers are going to continue to visit and keep in touch. 

An Easter gift parcel prepared by Barnsley Methodist Circuit.

I have also launched quarterly Ladies Days, which include a buffet lunch and a guest speaker or musician. Once a year we invite gentlemen to join us.  We regularly have 60 people to these events.  The first one was held in a marquee, but the rest have been able to take place in local church Halls.

In June we are launching a fortnightly café for people with dementia and their carers. 

My role is about to develop to include more pastoral work, which, as we emerge from Covid, will be really important.  Some people are struggling with confidence and fear about even leaving the house.  For some their mental health has suffered and for others their physical health has taken a turn for the worse during Covid. For these people gently being alongside them on a one to one basis will be important, to encourage their confidence and hopefully gradually introduce them back to living a life with less fear and more freedom. 

As someone said to me "I am scared, but I have a lot less years ahead of me than I have behind me and I don't want to live the rest of my life in fear looking at these four walls". 

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