The Salvation Army is a church and charity that has been supporting society’s most vulnerable people for more than 150 years. One of the main issues we see facing older people is social isolation and we work with our church leaders around the country to ensure that we are responding most effectively to the local need. We do this by implementing initiatives that work to prevent isolation at the root rather than only dealing with the acute effects.
We see a number of triggers that can push a person into isolation: the death of a loved one, ill health that leads to losing connections, having to move house, and even simply retiring and losing the support network one has built at work. We believe that if we can support a person at this trigger point and help them build relationships and connections it can potentially prevent them from slipping away from society and feeling alienated and lonely later down the line.
Our work with older people always aims to acknowledge the contributions older people have made, and continue to make, in our communities and to their families. We want them to know their value and feel valuable to others, so that they can continue to make the best contribution possible which benefits all.
The focus of our work with older people begins in our churches and community centres where we run a variety of activities, and one of the main elements of this is our lunch clubs. Every week across the country we provide a safe place for over 6,000 people to join with others, share a meal and build friendships. We find that around 90 percent of the attendees live alone so this is a chance for them to socialise and make friends with others in the community who they may not otherwise have met. To complement these lunch clubs a number of our churches have launched ‘Friendship Clubs’ specifically focused on building important bonds. For example, our church in Romford has over 100 regular attendees to their Friendship Club and they have seen strong relationships built within the group, which has led to day trips and holidays together.
Another area of isolation we see is amongst people living with dementia. We recently launched ‘Singing by Heart’ groups in the UK – where people living with dementia are invited along with their carers, to sing together – and have seen them grow in popularity. We see quite a large number of sole carers come along with their loved ones and whilst it is widely recognised that music can trigger past memories and feelings for someone living with dementia, we also see these sessions as an important time for the carer. Being a sole carer can often be extremely lonely and bonds with friends, family and the community can be lost. At ‘Singing by Heart’ we’ve seen how the sessions offer them an important time of fellowship with others in a similar position to them whilst they also enjoy time with their loved one.
The Salvation Army has hundreds of community churches and centres in the country, and through resourcing, regular training with our church leaders and service managers we ensure that at a local level we can recognise the beginnings of loneliness and isolation. We encourage our congregations to build relationships with older people, who are perhaps just retiring, have just moved into the area or are house bound. Through stimulating initiatives that bring people together, from lunch clubs, to ‘knit and natter’, keep fit and book clubs we hope to make a difference in people’s lives that will prevent them from falling into isolation or supporting them and helping them to build friendships once more.