In our busy 21st century lives I have heard it said that above all things, even money, time is our most precious commodity. We never seem to have enough of it. We talk about ‘buying time’ and ‘saving time’ but can we really do either of these things? It seems to me that the key is about using our time well.
We all have demands on our time that have to come first, such as earning money and taking care of home, family and self. Then there might be care of extended family, perhaps elderly parents. What next? These days, especially in the city, we have more choices of how to spend our spare time than ever before – we may have any number of hobbies to pursue, exhibitions to see, friends to meet, travel, sport and exercise and more gentle activities such as reading and crafts.
Why should we spend time volunteering to visit an isolated person with all the other choices that we have? Perhaps it is because doing this will impact positively on another person who really needs it as well as ourselves. Sure, we can have a great outing to the latest exhibition or show in the city and feel good about this, but by spending our time visiting a housebound and isolated person there is also a positive impact on someone else who has a lot less social contact and choices than we do. So there are two people who are happy at the end of the day and by proactively planning each week perhaps we can even ‘make a little more time’ to fit in all those other things we want to do.
How can you make the very best of your time for your own sake as well as for the benefit of another?
There have been a number of articles in the media recently about older people and loneliness. Age UK says that 1.2 million older people are chronically lonely and that this has an adverse impact on mental health, and the challenge will increase as our population ages. Caroline Abrahams, Age UK charity director says: “Loneliness can have an impact on older people’s health and wellbeing. And this is particularly true when it comes to mental health, with older people’s depression often brought on by, or exacerbated by loneliness.”
The spotlight on older people initiative – a group of nine older people’s organisations led by the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness – says that more than half the users of over-50s social networking site Gransnet, who say they are lonely, have never discussed loneliness with anyone.
Added to this, according to Age UK in the next 20 years, England’s over-85 population is set to rise from nearly 1.3 million people to just under 2.8 million.
A weekly phone call or visit from a volunteer are among the solutions to help ease the loneliness epidemic according to campaigners and this is where Volunteer Link can play a vital role.
Volunteer Link operates and supports people who live in the the London borough of Ealing.
Volunteers are linked with lonely and isolated clients and they visit on a regular basis to provide companionship and support. The Scheme provides an excellent way to break the loneliness cycle that so many older people experience.
Our own research backs up more formal studies. The Volunteer Link 2016 Client Survey showed that after receiving regular visits from one of our volunteers 79% said that they felt less lonely and 58% reported feeling happier. One of our clients described the difference before and after being visited by a volunteer as ‘I was so down, lonely and isolated, (I now) feel less depressed’.
The findings of recent studies and the fact that the numbers of older people are steadily increasing means that Volunteer Link volunteers are needed more than ever. By giving just a couple of hours of their time each week a volunteer can make a huge positive difference to the life of a lonely older person, increasing their chances of avoiding depression and leading a happier life.