On 7 October 2020, we talked to BBC WM about how our programme has helped people through the pandemic. Listeners also heard from Cindy who used to enjoy being on her own, living with social anxiety and avoiding large crowds. She's a member of a group called St Martin's Friends which is funded by Ageing Better in Birmingham and based in Perry Common, north of the city centre.
Usually, the group enjoy fun activities together like playing darts, quoits, puzzles or getting together for exercises.
When the government put restrictions in place and the country went into a lockdown, members weren't able to see each other in person any more. This meant many found themselves not only bored with nothing to do all day, but with feelings of loneliness too. The group decided that they needed to do something and to keep people happy and connected. They applied for funding from Ageing Better to create activity packs of all sorts. These included things like stained glass decoration kits, wood work materials, crafting, colouring books, crosswords and items that members wanted.
Listen to Cindy speak about the difference St Martin's Friends and the funding from Ageing Better has had on her life: Listen again, 3 hours, 47 minutes in (available until 6 Nov)
or, continue reading the transcript below:
From Afternoons on Radio WM with Richard Wilford, 07 October 2020
Today I'm delighted to say that we're joined by a great charity helping people overcome loneliness. During the pandemic they've been using technology to help people stay in touch and we can say hello to Elina from Ageing Better in Birmingham and Cindy who's been receiving support from the charity after becoming isolated during lockdown. Elina first tell us a little bit about Ageing Better in Birmingham and what you've been doing to help people across the city.
Elina Rosen (Ageing Better Coordinator)
Ageing Better in Birmingham was established about five years ago, and we're funded by the National Lottery Community Fund to end loneliness and isolation in Birmingham. Basically, there's been a real need in the city and obviously with a pandemic and the government guidelines for social distancing this need has really increased the risk of being socially isolated and lonely. So we've done a few different things.
We've reached out to people asking them to do video calls and phone calls, and to speak to people over the garden hedge or the front wall or reaching out through WhatsApp and that sort of thing.
We've also created guidelines for community groups on how to keep connecting with their members. And we've provided funding for groups as well, with things like Zoom subscriptions and digital technology like tablets and phones and craft packs and things like that.
Have you found people have needed more help and support and conversation as much as anything during the pandemic?
I mean people's happiness depends on it. It's important for people of all ages to have someone to speak to and to feel valued and you know the sort of bumping-into opportunities at the shop, in the queue and when you're waiting for the bus; those opportunities have sort of disappeared. So that's what we've seen, it's really important that people don't feel like they're forgotten.
Cindy, Ageing Better has been helpful to you. Explain what you needed and what help you got.
What Elina's just said about people on their own and various age groups. I mean myself, I suffer from agoraphobia and social anxiety. I've always had this problem of being isolated. And it's only since the pandemic that a lot of people have become aware that people of all ages have this problem. People become suicidal through this, because of not having human contact. It's a really, really terrible thing. And with older people being on their own, they think, you know, I'm of no use anymore so they don't feel like they can reach out and ask for help. Not even from their own family because they feel 'oh, I'm not strong enough to babysit or help out like this and that'.
So, this organisation Ageing Better, it has been wonderful. I mean, when I received my pack I was in tears, to think somebody actually thought of me
What have you been able to do as a result of it Cindy?
I mean, I've been isolated for years. Ageing Better have contributed to St Martin's and they've been supporting St Martin's Community Care, and they contacted me. I'm on their WhatsApp group, I'm actually in contact with strangers. I have no friends. Because of this group, because of the funding and everything, I'm actually in contact with strangers. I've had fun on WhatsApp I've actually laughed. I know it may sound daft, but this is true I've laughed. I've had my cheeks aching from grinning. We're playing games. Bingo. Dingbats. Funny word games.
I'm actually in contact with strangers. I've had fun on WhatsApp I've actually laughed. I know it may sound daft, but this is true I've laughed. I've had my cheeks aching from grinning.Cindy
I mean I'm into wood burning. These activity packs where you can do painting or decorating wood, things like pipe cleaners. It may sound like silly things but they mean such a lot. It really does. It gives you something to think about other than yourself and your isolation and actually having contact with other human beings in the same boat, who understand, somebody you can actually talk to, and even for no reason at all. You can just go onto WhatsApp, and the group call, and you can just talk to somebody.
One of the people on WhatsApp, every day, she puts a quote of something uplifting and everybody can contribute, people who thought they had nothing to contribute. They actually feel that they can actually do something. It's wonderful. I can't praise it enough. Thank you so much, and everyone from St Martin's.
I was gonna say to you, Elina, there's no better advocate that you could possibly have, for the work that Ageing Better is doing! Listening to Cindy with the enthusiasm and the passion and excitement.
If we can change one person's life like that it's totally worth it.
I mean how do you feel now, Cindy, do you have people you can reach out to?
Seriously, I mean I've never had that. I've had agoraphobia and social anxiety and all my life.
But thanks to this, and Debbie and Peter at the wood shed and Ruth and Mark, and all the people there. It's all because of funding from programmes like Ageing Better. Every cloud has a silver lining. This pandemic has actually brought to light something that has been around for decades. People get old, you are going to get old. You are going to be in this position one day. We all are. And, you know, we're all, everybody, even the young, are getting a taste of it. What it's like to be isolated alone. Lonely. Cut off.
Yes, absolutely. Cindy mentions funding there, and Elina, it's very important that people also help out with Ageing Better because you do need to keep going. You do need funding to be able to help people.
Yes, and also being able to rely on people, relying on Brummies to do their bit so that we can rely on our neighbours to check in on us when we get older, and you know, saying Hello and having a chat to people, it is so important.
There is a website that you can visit ageingbetterinbirmingham.co.uk, where you can find phone numbers, and also email addresses, and more information about how to get involved and what you can do for your local community.
That's so nice. That's so nice. That's Elina from Ageing Better in Birmingham and Cindy. Well if you can't hear what that support has done for her then you've not been listening.
Do you want to find out more about St Martin's and the group that Cindy is involved with? It is managed by lead partner Thrive Together Birmingham https://www.facebook.com/stmartinssocialcareproject or call 07545 477519