The enforced self-isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a spotlight on a problem which already blights many in 21st century Britain: loneliness.
Loneliness eats away at the very soul of what it means to be human. As a young mum, 25 years ago, I remember the healing power of a friendly chat with the greengrocer – the only human voice I had spoken to all day. In lockdown, there is no one to seek out as the shops are shut, interaction with public services is discouraged as we are all forced online, and strangers shy away from impromptu chats. Loneliness leads to mental health disorders, physical illness and even shortens lives.
My focus is on the loneliness of two large groups in the UK. The first is the elderly living alone and independently. Most of their time is spent within four walls, shielded from mixing with others. They may have family and friends but interaction with them occupies a small portion of the week. This generation craves usefulness, structure to their lives, and has a wealth of experience to share.
The second is those who are younger and newly arrived in the UK. They will have come as adults and may be asylum seekers, refugees, or economic migrants. They are not working, have few or no family members for support, relying instead on charities or religious organisations. Their usual routines of visits to support staff, medical appointments and English classes have been severely curtailed. Their English classes are a lifeline to a better life in the future. Without the ability to communicate in English, they will remain confined to a world of relying on others for help.
The challenge and opportunity is to create mutually beneficial relationships between these two groups of people.