A podcast series championing great work being done in Cheshire West and Chester to tackle loneliness and social isolation is to be launched during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week. It’s the first UK podcast series of its kind. ‘Discover Brightlife’ captures the heartfelt stories of those who have suddenly found themselves facing life alone over 50.
Now three years into a five year Big Lottery funded project, the series launched on 14th May unveils the lessons the team at Brightlife Cheshire have learnt when it comes to easing social isolation – and highlights the areas where more work is needed.
87 year-old Thelma attends a Wednesday drop-in group in Chester, and says she’s afraid of what lies ahead for her future after recently becoming widowed. She tries to describe what loneliness is: “It’s as if the light goes out of your life. It’s a feeling of emptiness. And feeling that you’re not important to anyone. Friends are really important to help you feel connected to life.”
After finding himself recently disabled, and his marriage of 33 years breaking down – Tim from Moulton reveals he’s only left the house three times in the last 9 months – and those visits were to a Brightlife support event for just a few hours on a Saturday once a month: “I don’t see anybody. I don’t have any contact with anybody. Places like this… this makes so much difference to me.”
Age UK estimates there are 1.2 million people who are chronically lonely in England – that’s one in 20 adults. The cost of loneliness and its impact on health is something Dr Jonathan Griffiths, Winsford GP and Chair of NHS Vale Royal CCG is keen to learn more about using Brightlife’s referral scheme. “Being lonely is associated with an increased risk in developing coronary disease, heart disease and stroke. It’s comparable risk factor for early death is smoking 15 cigarettes per day.”
Doctors nationally are being encouraged to recommend the importance of staying active to patients showing signs of isolation: “It’s not about somebody doing to you or fixing you, or solving your problem for you – the project is about connecting you with other people who are also lonely, and together you can solve your own worries by being better connected.”
The podcast series uncovers inspirational stories – such as that of spritely 90 year-old Audrey Thomas from Malpas who, after finding herself isolated form a series of health complications, discovered a talent for poetry and fine art: “I always believed I couldn’t even draw a line straight, then at 89 there I am sketching!” She cites recently appearing on Page 3 of the Chester Chronicle, having her story told in America and appearing on BBC Radio as proof that it’s never too late to learn a new skill in life.
From local churches, pubs, day care centres to village halls – all corners of the Cheshire community have been engaging and expressing their support to help the project be a success in challenging social isolation for the over 50s.
At the core of the project is the passion of social prescribers who work tirelessly in Malpas, Winsford and areas of Chester to find the people who need a helping hand, listen to what they have to say and tailor the right answer for them – for their interests and locality. Brightlife’s work in the rest of Cheshire West and Chester is to encourage people to be aware of social isolation and loneliness.
Chris McMahon leads the team based in Northwich: “Some people are really pleased just to have a visitor, to have someone to offer a cup of tea too. You see a real difference within an hour that you’ve spent with somebody. As the project continues, hopefully we can get more evidence that this approach does work and that it can help to build stronger communities as well.”
The first three episodes of ‘Discover Brightlife’ are released on Monday 14th May, in support of Mental Health Awareness Week. Brightlife is passionate about creating spaces where everyone feels valued and supported.
‘Discover Brightlife’ Episode Schedule: