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Older people take action to reduce lockdown loneliness in Burley and Kirkstall

Older people are leading a new campaign to reduce lockdown loneliness in Burley and Kirkstall.          

Thirty older people who are members of OWLS (Older Wiser Local Seniors) are volunteering to make a regular phone call to an older person they haven’t met before, in an effort to tackle the loneliness caused the lockdown.

This ‘Phone a New Friend’ project has sprung up in response to COVID-19, as many older people find themselves isolated with just the TV and Radio for company.

With National Loneliness Week on the horizon (15-21 June 2020) the OWLS campaigners are asking other 60+ year olds in the area to take action to reduce lockdown loneliness by joining Phone a New Friend. It’s as simple as picking up the phone.

Phone a New Friend participants are matched by staff at OWLS, an independent charity and one of 35 Neighbourhood Network Schemes operating in Leeds.

Alice Whip, an 89-year-old volunteer with Phone a New Friend has found lockdown hard. She is ringing Shenaz, a much younger older person who is also really isolated because of COVID-19. They’ve really hit if off and become firm friends, although they’ve not met in person yet.  Alice said:

“This is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I imagine lockdown is much harder for those who don’t have anyone to speak to.

“I get a lot of satisfaction from the calls; both of us enjoy it. If you haven’t tried anything like it before, just go for it.”

Pamela and Tom are another pair who have become friends through Phone a New Friend. Pamela felt unable to help and wanted to be useful in the crisis. Find out more in this video:

Joanne McManus, Community Builder at OWLS, said:

“It’s inspiring to see the older generation leading the way on this issue. We’re asking anyone aged 60+ living in North West Leeds to join the Phone a New Friend campaign by calling OWLS today on 0113 369 7077. If you live in Burley, Headingley, Hyde Park, Little Woodhouse and Kirkstall please help make lockdown less lonely.”

The project is enabling older people to help solve the problem of rising loneliness themselves, by volunteering to make a friendly weekly call to a person they’ve not met before.

The calls are already making a big difference to participants. OWLS hope that participants will start to meet face to face when it’s safe to do so.

According to 2011 Census data, there are 1,500 older people (65+) living alone in Kirkstall, Headingley and Hyde Park areas of Leeds. There are 159,000 older people (aged 60 upwards) living in Leeds. While some are well supported and connected with friends and family, there are many who are living alone or with limited contact to others.

Although this campaign focusses on parts of North West Leeds, the OWLS hope it will encourage others to reach out to anyone experiencing lockdown loneliness.

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