Volunteers for St Clare Hospice
The Compassionate Neighbours project run by St Clare Hospice in Essex has made over 100 matches between its volunteers and local people who are living with a life-limiting condition and are experiencing social isolation.
The project, now running throughout 11 hospices across the UK, adopts a community, volunteer-led approach to tackling loneliness through ‘matching’ people together, who then build a mutual relationship and meet up on a regular basis for a cup of tea and a chat.
Since St Clare launched the project in 2018 it has made 103 matches and trained 111 Compassionate Neighbours volunteers, touching the lives of more than a hundred local people who self-identify as lonely and socially isolated.
“When you become unwell with a life-limiting illness, or are coping with frailty, your experience of ‘normal life’ can change,” explained Stacey Towler, Compassionate Neighbours Project Manager at the hospice. “You may not be able to go out and do the things you enjoy as much; you may spend lots of time having appointments; and day-to-day life and interactions become more difficult and less regular.
“As a result of this, people’s confidence can decrease and they often reflect that they feel lonely and socially isolated. That’s where the Compassionate Neighbours project can offer a real lifeline for people; it’s a way of initiating a genuine friendship between two people, who can then take that forward in a way that they both enjoy.”
According to 2019 UK government statistics, disabled people living in England are four times more likely than non-disabled people to feel lonely either ‘often’ or ‘always’. “The need for programmes such as the Compassionate Neighbours project is at an all-time high – as statistics like these haven’t shown any improvement for the past half a decade” Stacey said.
For now, face-to-face visits are on hold because of the COVID-19 outbreak, however volunteers are continuing to maintain their relationship with their community member via telephone contact for the time being. Events including bereavement cafés, yoga sessions and some hospice-based fundraising activities are also paused until further notice.
“We know that in the coming weeks, as the impact of coronavirus continues to be felt, the people the projects supports will be feeling even more socially isolated and lonely” Stacey said. “Our Compassionate Neighbours know this too, and have immediately been coming together to offer creative ways to support, not only their matched community member, but the wider community too – who will be impacted by self-isolation.
“We are also linking with other community groups and looking for ways to work in partnership to provide practical support, and find digital solutions, to ensure that the most vulnerable older people are not left isolated during this difficult time.”
For more information visit St Clare Hospice