Mental Health Awareness Week: Pat and Jade's story

This Mental Health Awareness week, younger neighbour Jade (30) reflects on this year’s theme, loneliness, and how the friendship she’s built with older neighbour Pat (83) through our Love Your Neighbour programme has enriched both their lives and made them feel more connected after the two isolating years.

Even before the pandemic, there were believed to be around one million people over the age of 65 who were often or always lonely in the UK. As our modern world moves at breakneck speed, living in London can leave people feeling anonymous, isolated and lonely. This is often the case for both older people whose social networks may have frayed and for younger people facing work and social media pressures. I moved jobs during the pandemic, and I spent lockdown working remotely. I found myself craving face-to-face contact. If I was feeling this way, what about all our older neighbours?

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There are countless volunteering opportunities through numerous charities around the UK. I did some research and found South London Cares, a charity I’d heard of through a friend, and I was intrigued to take a further look at their programmes. Their aim is to bring older and younger people together. I initially signed up to the charity as a younger neighbour, completing a questionnaire about how I would like to help, my skills and occupation and was invited to attend a volunteer induction. Following this I started to attend social clubs, including Desert Island Discs, Pub Club and Coffee and Catch Up.

I really enjoyed attending these events and decided to sign up to the Love Your Neighbour programme, which matches younger people and older neighbours based on location and shared interests. The process took a little time, the filling in of an application, an interview and a DBS check before awaiting a match but it’s certainly worth the wait. In November 2021, I was introduced to my lovely friend Pat, who lives up the road from me in Streatham. She has brought so much joy and laughter into my life and is someone who I very much look forward to visiting every Tuesday lunchtime.

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Let me tell you about Pat. She’s full of life, chatty, funny and has a talent for writing poetry. Pre-pandemic, Pat attended social clubs, dances and restaurants regularly, yet over the past couple of years, due to some medical issues, her life has changed. Life has also changed for me; we’re no longer attending the office in a team environment on a daily basis, I moved out of my shared house and many social activities I used to enjoy were on hold. I was also missing my Nan, a kind lady who I lived opposite until the age of 12 and who is now 10 years into an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. My Nan and I used to watch Countdown, bake scones and pick the weeds out of the garden together. While she’s still alive and well, we’re no longer able to share these things, or spend time together like we used to.

South London Cares and the Love Your Neighbour programme has given both Pat and I a new friend, someone to talk to, and someone to laugh and share memories with. We have a shared interest in travel and history. I keep Pat up to date with any changes to our South London neighbourhood and she tells me what life used to be like before technology took over and how much she used to enjoy exploring London.

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This hour a week provides me with some time out, a chance to relax and just focus on conversation without any distractions. For Pat, I’m a listening ear, someone to see face to face, someone who isn’t there to help, to bring her shopping in or to fix something. I’m purely there as a friend, to chat, to listen and to laugh. I come back to work every Tuesday afternoon with an appreciation for friendship and what it can bring if we all just take a little time out to talk, to enjoy a cuppa, and share a smile.

The Love Your Neighbour programme is on the lookout for more volunteers, so if you live or work in Southwark or Lambeth, and build a friendship as special as Jade and Pat’s, get in touch. You can find out more about the programme and sign up here.

Jade

Posted by Jade on Sunday 8th May 2022

Younger neighbour Jade has lived in Streatham for the last four years. She signed up with South London Cares back last September, and since then has been coming along to social clubs and is also matched on our Love Your Neighbour programme.