Isolated and lonely older people in Norwich to benefit from charity’s £200,000 lottery windfall

More than £200,000 is to be spent on bringing isolated and lonely older people back into their Norwich communities.

Richard Wheeler Tuesday, July 17, 2012
6.30 AM


Age UK Norwich is searching for 60 new befrienders to keep elderly people active – from a walk in the park to a visit to the pub.

The charity has received £200,000 from the Big Lottery Fund to expand its volunteer project during the next three years to meet an ever-increasing demand.

And now it needs helpers to come forward to put it into action.

The first volunteer event will be held tomorrow at its office in Boardman House, Redwell Street, city centre, from 2pm.

Phil Wells, Age UK Norwich chief executive, said the World Health Organisation regarded loneliness as a “bigger killer than smoking”.

He said: “There are lots of people, around 5,000 isolated people in Norwich, living in income deprivation. They can’t afford to heat their home properly and there’s no reason for that.

“They are all resolvable problems. Who are those 5,000 people? This is a model based on demographics.”

Mr Wells added: “This idea is about getting to know people who are different to you and creating a friendship and that’s what befriending turns into. It’s not a mentoring role. You are not there to advise. It’s a friendship.

“I’ve never met a befriender who has not focused on what joy it brings to them and what a sense of achievement it brings when your client, who has very low self-esteem, has gone to the trouble for the first time of doing their hair before you arrive.

“People get enormous benefit from that.”

Age UK Norwich currently has almost 90 befrienders, organised by Sheena MacRonald, who are paired up with people in need of support.

But resources are stretched and the new cash will allow the charity to employ a new Out and About coordinator to work with volunteers.

The grant will support the charity’s advice team so it can ensure people are getting the right benefits if they have low income or mobility problems. The team also helps people resolve housing, care or difficulties.

Mr Wells said Age UK’s outreach advice team will also be able to hold clinics around Norwich to make sure they are in contact with people who could benefit from the befriending and advice services.

He added he hopes the project will prove befriending support can prevent older people needing more expensive care treatment for longer, which will convince GPs to offer future funding after they take control of health spending from April 2013.

Students from the University of East Anglia and retired people are among the biggest helpers to Age UK’s befriending project.

Mike Wiley, 67, of Duke Street, Norwich, initially approached Age UK for advice.

But he was recommended to be come a befriender to city resident Margaret, 75, from February.

And Mr Wiley told the Evening News this was now a “cornerstone of my life”.

He said: “The friendship at heart is a formal one. It has a shape to it, which lends it dignity and respect on both sides.

“On the one hand, I’m at Margaret’s on behalf of Age UK and Sheena, maintaining the charity’s good name and status.

“This means there’s always a way-in for a befriender to get the visit going.

“For instance, I know it should be my business to ask Margaret about her noisy and nosey neighbour, her arthritis, that the newly-mended basket on her scooter’s still okay and the clematis needs cutting back, if another letter to the council’s needed and whatever else befrienders are for.

“On the other hand, I’d say Margaret and I have become firm friends too, on a personal level.

“I’m committed, it’s emotional, I’ve a liking for her and so does my teenage daughter, Emer. In other words, I feel needed.

“And you know what? It’s life-changing for me to be able to write, think, words like that, bearing in mind the state I was in. Talk about a winter of discontent. Isolation’s more like it, living out by the side of it all.

“That’s why I phoned Age UK Norwich in the first place, took hold of the opportunity.”

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