Most of us recognise the aching pangs of loneliness. At some point in our lives we have felt them, if just for a short time. Even more so through Covid and its lockdowns which forced us all to keep away from friends, family and neighbours. And it has been tough.
For some, used to loneliness, the pandemic made no difference to their situations. And as we emerge out of the worst of the past 2 years, for them loneliness and the factors in their lives that cause it will still be there. Difficulty making friends; bereavement; moving home, school or to university; the end of a relationship; living with a disability or illness; poor mental health; low income and unemployment. Some of these drivers of loneliness were exacerbated by the pandemic but, even as it eases, they have not now gone away.
An Age UK study made in 2018, before we had even heard of Covid, found that 1.4 million older people are often lonely. According to The Community Life Survey carried out by the government in 2021-22 across all ages, genders and life situations in England, 3 million people – that’s 6% of its population – say they often or always feel lonely. For people with a long-term illness or disability that figure is 15%, and for 16-24 year olds it is 11% – higher than any other age group. For those living in the most deprived areas of the country the number is 10%.
A large part of the Mission’s work is to befriend those who are marginalised and isolated. Some may be alone and housebound because of old age. Some are living on the streets or in a hostel, struggling with addiction and their mental health. Some simply cannot afford to participate in activities that help so many of us build relationships.
BCM City Missionary, Anna Maria Kaminski says, ‘I am supporting three single moms coming out of domestic abuse. Because of this they have had to take housing away from their homes and family and are facing loneliness. Many homeless people find themselves on the street after a break-up. They feel alone, unseen, unheard.’
Missionary Peter Sherwood continues, ‘Loneliness is a hard felt reality for many we encounter daily at the Care Centre. Clients who are rough sleepers or in and out of hostels say how they “feel isolated and bored” and that there is “nothing to do and no-one to talk to.” This loneliness, along with other issues, can present a sense of hopelessness for many.
We try to help, sometimes by just being a listening ear, offering practical support and sharing the hope that is to be found in Jesus Christ. We provide volunteer roles for some clients, who have “got nothing else to do” and “no purpose”. Some say, “If this Care Centre wasn’t here, I don’t know what I’d have to do” and “I like coming here because it helps to speak to my friends and see a friendly face.”
Bereavement and, in particular, losing a partner can happen to anyone, but more often older people. ElderLink Manager, Rachel Khan says, ‘So many of our elderly clients have lost husbands and wives. They talk often about how much they miss them. One lady whose husband died cannot talk about him without crying.
Tears have become more frequent around the table at our new ‘Coffee & Cake’ clubs as folk share their grief. The clubs are less busy for staff and clients than the pre-Covid lunch clubs, there is more opportunity to chat and pray and people feel safe to express themselves. Not just staff but clients themselves minister to each other, finding solace in having similar experiences of bereavement.’