These past two weeks have seen massive changes to our daily patterns and behaviours, with the worlds of many of us shrinking to life within our own four walls, whilst others are facing the most challenging and stressful time in their working lives.
Many people are understandably concerned about vulnerable relatives and friends. The majority of us are also coming to terms with the reality of becoming 'self isolated' from other people where we remain in our own homes for much of the time, and try to remain at least two metres from other people.
The charitable objects of Linking Lives UK are 'the promotion of social inclusion...among people who are excluded from society because they are housebound for any reason...'.
As a result, all of our work focuses on addressing loneliness and social isolation and, almost overnight, concerns that we have been engaging in for many years now are entering the public discourse in news reports, articles and one to one discussions.
Two weeks ago, loneliness was a cause being championed by various charities, faith groups and a dedicated unit within the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports. Today, many people are experiencing first hand the reality of isolation, and may be facing increasing feelings of loneliness as time goes on.
This year, we launched an awareness-raising and fundraising campaign called the 'Loneliness Lock-In' which was created to encourage participants to spend up to 24 hours on their own with no access to other people, wifi or gadgets. Many of those taking part fed back that they gained a limited but greater understanding of life for those living on their own. It opened their eyes to the feelings involved, reactions to isolation and the challenges involved.
As a Christian charity, we believe that God has created us to live in community and that the first thing that God said was not good was for man to be alone (Genesis 2: 18). Our befriending projects, which range from Aberdeen to Guernsey, all focus on enabling churches to recruit volunteers to visit socially isolated older people on a weekly basis for around one hour.
These visits have a significant impact on the lives of people across the country and we are always inspired by stories of the difference that these visits make on older people people and volunteers alike. We have, sadly, been forced during this week to temporarily end these visits to ensure the health and safety of all those involved. This has been a difficult step to have to take, but a necessary one.
We will now, though, be supporting all those known to us through regular telephone calls. We will also link people to alternative means of local support such as food banks, prescription collection and other services. We are also using our experience in this field to develop new ideas to support those already isolated whose situation has been exacerbated as a result of this virus. Further details of these initiatives will be announced shortly.
During these challenging and unprecedented times, we would encourage everyone to make sure that they are aware of all those around them, particularly those who may be at higher risk. There are many localised community responses to support neighbours, one of which – Covid 19 Mutual Aid – was created last week and has grown significantly in seven days. Please do engage with these, and take opportunities to support and check up on those around you at all times.
I came across the term last week of 'care-mongering', which describes a new wave of altruism which has been spreading across the world, ranging from delivering food, online singing groups, writing letters to those on their own and many more. This is inspiring to hear and we trust that this will continue and will outweigh some examples of individualism that we have seen. May we all continue to 'think outside of the box' as we do what we can within the confines of our circumstances to look out for those most in need.
Jeremy Sharpe is National Director of Linking Lives UK, a Christian charity working across the UK with churches and Christian organisations to establish befriending projects which engage with socially isolated older people. For more information go to www.linkinglives.uk