When Katy – a local befriending scheme coordinator – was filling in the paperwork for Gill* (aged 90) she shared that the feelings of loneliness were very hard, but particularly when she entered her house after being out. After some time had passed, Gill was asking very direct questions about Katy’s faith, so she suggested they could pray together and ask God to comfort her and lift this weight of loneliness off her as she enters the house.
After an emotional prayer which took place there and then, Gill now can’t believe how quickly things have changed. She is utterly amazed that God should do this for her – an ordinary woman. Her feeling of that weight of loneliness as she enters the house had gone!
She repeated, “I can’t believe it honestly! So quick!” She now has confidence in her relationship with God and testifies that ‘It’s like he is already in my bungalow when I turn the key.”
Linking Lives UK is an award-winning national Christian charity working with churches and Christian organisations to address loneliness and social isolation, particularly among older people like Gill. This is achieved by setting up befriending schemes (known as ‘Two’s Company Befriending’) in local communities in which volunteers make regular home visits or telephone calls to those in need of extra company. Many of those reached locally would otherwise have little or no contact with other people because of physical disabilities or mental health issues. Using our model, churches can engage with people who are often extremely marginalised and experiencing social isolation and loneliness.
We currently work with over 70 local churches and Christian organisations to address loneliness across the UK, and collectively these schemes make regular contact with over 800 people. In a recent survey, 73% of our church partners reported that there were scheme members who had started to engage in church activities recently as a result of contact with their befriending scheme.
We are using the week of 13th-17th June, which is ‘Loneliness Awareness Week’, to raise awareness of loneliness and to spotlight the work of Linking Lives UK. Our ‘Power of One Campaign’ will focus on the ability that we all have to make a small difference in the lives of those around us who may struggle with loneliness. We have put together some resources with practical hints and tips that can be used in our day-to-day lives. We will also be running two webinars during the week and have created a ‘Power of One’ Stewardship Campaign page (see below) with a target of raising £3,000 by the end of June.
Loneliness in the UK has been declared by the Campaign to End Loneliness as a public health crisis. In England, 2 million over 75s live alone and 75% of them feel lonely – 6% reporting chronic loneliness. Older people can experience crushing loneliness and isolation when they lose community networks, family, a life partner and friends. All too often they become invisible and overlooked, resorting to the TV as their only company.
Covid has exacerbated this for older people and made those who are physically able to venture out fearful of doing so, despite being vaccinated. They face the challenges of adapting to the 'new normal' and many feel unable to even contemplate this task. Covid-19 has triggered an overwhelming step change for them which has resulted in a sizeable number of newly isolated older people needing befriending support.
We strongly believe that the Church and individual Christians have a vital role to play in responding to the challenge of engaging with those often forgotten by society. Psalm 68:5-6 is a reminder that ‘A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families.’ (NIV) Churches are often the only remaining source of community, and we all have an opportunity to share God’s love in our day to day lives with those who need it most.
If you would like to support us in this vital work, we would be delighted to partner with you. You can contribute on a one-off basis through our ‘Power of One’ campaign or regular donations can be made through our profile page and this really helps us in our future planning.
If you represent (or know of) a church or Christian organisation interested in partnering with us to establish a befriending scheme in your area, please contact us at [email protected]
*Not real name