Jeremy Sharpe, National Director of Linking Lives UK, explains how the charity is working to tackle the loneliness epidemic

Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, loneliness and social isolation were already being described as an epidemic, and the UK had been identified as the ‘loneliness capital of Europe’. 500,000 older people spent Christmas Day alone in 2019, and a similar number spent five to six days per week without seeing anyone. Inevitably, these figures will have multiplied significantly in a very short space of time and there is a great deal of concern about the longer-term impact, particularly on mental health.

Linking Lives UK is a national Christian charity which has been set up to work with churches and Christian organisations to develop home visiting projects across the UK. The model enables local volunteers from churches to visit socially isolated older people in their own homes once a week for around one hour. These visits often provide a real lifeline for those being visited and also benefit volunteers as they get to know the person they visit.

One lady who receives regular visits from a Linking Lives volunteer explained recently, "She [the volunteer] comes on a Monday and it is as if the sun suddenly shines on my entire week – the remaining days are full of happy memories."

We also have other inspiring stories of older people encountering God as a result of building relationships with Christian volunteers.

As soon as the announcement was made that we should all isolate ourselves, we converted all home visits to regular telephone calls and stopped all face-to-face contact. This has been a significant challenge, but has also led to many examples of innovative activity including delivery of resource packs containing puzzles, quizzes and painting books; use of video conferencing to maintain contact; online singing groups and intergenerational pen pal projects.

This period has also enabled us to develop a new project called Two’s Company. This package enables churches to set up and run a telephone befriending service locally and uses existing volunteers from church life. Full training and necessary documents are provided by Linking Lives UK and we have seen considerable interest since the launch at the end of April.

We believe that individual Christians, churches and Christian charities will have a significant role to play in addressing loneliness over coming months. The implications will continue far beyond the gradual relaxation of lockdown, and our challenge to the church is to work with organisations with experience in this field to explore innovative and exciting new ideas to reach and support those most in need around us.

We would value prayers at this time for:

  • Those particularly struggling with isolation that they will know God’s peace and presence
  • Godly and inspired thinking in responding to these issues
  • Necessary resources to meet needs

Are you part of a church based in the Wiltshire area? At Pilgrims' Friend Society, our Community Engagement Officer Ruth Ranger is working to connect churches with local older people. Find out more here