For many, Beckham going to Peckham in Only Fools and Horses was the highlight of the recent Sport Relief telethon, and with good reason – it was great entertainment. For me, though, 92-year old Bob was the most memorable – even if his story had many people in tears, including presenter Davina McCall.
Bob’s wife, Cath, died of Alzheimer’s disease two years ago. After 65 happy and rewarding years together, Bob is now alone. As he put it, “There’s no-one to say, ‘let’s have a cup of tea’ or ask if there’s any of that cake leftover from yesterday.” Despite being a much loved grandpa in a caring family, Bob is lonely. Silver Line, the helpline for older people that is supported by Sport Relief, has been a lifeline for him, especially if he needs someone to talk to late at night when he feels he can’t call his friends or relatives.
Of all the moving stories that were shown during Sport Relief, it seems Bob’s was the most affecting. On the social media platform Twitter, Bob’s story generated more Tweets than anything else during the Sport Relief programme. So why did his story touch such a nerve?
I think it’s because what happened to Bob could, and most likely will, happen to any of us. According to Age UK, 3.8 million older people live alone, 2.5 million of them over 75. Over the next 20 years the number of people aged 65+ is projected to rise by nearly 50% to over 16 million, and loneliness is a problem that will only increase with our ageing population.
It was immensely brave of Bob to speak out about how he feels since the loss of his wife and the impact it has had on his life, even two years on. So often it’s Christmas time when we focus on loneliness, but being lonely isn’t a seasonal affliction, it’s a problem every day.
Retirement villages are good places to be for many reasons, but combatting loneliness through being part of a community is just one of them. Even if it’s simply having a friendly neighbour who’s got time to share a cup of tea with you, being around people can be enough to ward off feelings of loneliness. Activities that are happening on your doorstep, arranged by fellow villagers or the village team, give you a reason to get out of the house. A busy coffee bar on site gives you somewhere friendly to go for a chat and a treat. And, perhaps most importantly, you never have to wonder about who to call if something goes wrong, because there’s a support team on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It’s just six months now until Lynwood Village opens and I can’t wait to start welcoming our villagers and seeing the fulfilment they get from being part of a community within which all the support they need can be provided.