Edinburgh City Mission is launching an exciting new befriending service, to help people aged 65 and older who are facing loneliness, called Two’s Company Befriending. It will be a 1 to 1 befriending scheme that is run in partnership with Linking Lives UK. Through Two’s Company these organisations want to mobilise the faith community to step up and combat loneliness. With Loneliness Awareness Week taking place from 13-17 June, this is the perfect time to highlight the need and this new service.
Loneliness: The “Other” epidemic
Before the covid-19 pandemic, there was another issue that the medical community was becoming concerned about—loneliness and social isolation. In 2017, the former US Surgeon General, Dr Vivek Merthy, stated that “The world is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness…. If we cannot rebuild strong, authentic social connections, we will continue to splinter apart — in the workplace and in society.” Since then a global pandemic has only exacerbated this issue. According to the Office for National Statistics in November 2020, 4.2 million people said they were ‘always or often’ lonely, compared to 2.6 million before the pandemic.
More than just numbers, loneliness can have a tremendous impact on individual health. The Campaign to End Loneliness tells us that having weak social connections carries a health risk equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cognitive decline and dementia.
Although loneliness can affect anyone there are certain factors that increase the risk, for example reduced health, being widowed or living alone. With these factors, it is easy to see why older people may be at a higher risk of loneliness. According to Age UK, a third of older people in the UK live alone. However, we do not want to use Loneliness Awareness week to simply focus on the problem. We also want to highlight the hope that we have.
The faith community can make a difference
Whilst there is much work to be done, progress can be made to combat loneliness in our city. Many churches around Edinburgh host cafes or weekly gatherings to help their community create connection, and the value of these initiatives cannot be overstated. However, the challenge comes in reaching the most isolated in the community who are not already connected to the church. This is where Two’s Company Befriending can play a part.
Through Two’s Company, Edinburgh City Mission plans to partner with churches all across the city and connect them with the lonely, isolated older people directly in their communities (Julie Young pictured above). Volunteers will be able to do telephone befriending or in person home visiting once a week with one of these individuals and create hope and connection. The volunteers and churches will be supported by Edinburgh City Mission who will provide the volunteer safeguarding and training, referral screening, and befriending match monitoring. Linking Lives UK will support this initiative by providing the framework and resources that they have developed from 20 years of setting up befriending schemes all across the UK.
The hope is that through these partnerships and connections neighbourhood networks form in communities all across Edinburgh where individuals, health professionals, social welfare organisations, and churches work together to combat loneliness. In fact, Two’s Company is launching in the Portobello community and is already seeing this first network start to form. Edinburgh City Mission hopes that this is just the start of what can happen all over the city.
Our way forward
Much work has been done by the public sector and organisations across Edinburgh to combat loneliness. We have seen a greater awareness of the impact of loneliness and greater collaboration amongst sectors to meet this challenge. However, more work can be done in these areas and in destigmatizing loneliness. Through Two’s Company Befriending, Edinburgh City Mission and Linking Lives UK hope that the faith community in Edinburgh can be a leader in this effort and make a tremendous impact in the fight to end loneliness.
To learn more about Two’s Company Befriending or to enquire about how to get involved, please email Julie Young, Two’s Company Project Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more About Edinburgh City Mission click here.
To learn more About Linking Lives UK click here.