Contact counts: the Croydon charity tackling later-life loneliness

By - Tuesday 22nd April, 2014

Croydon is known for troublesome youth, not for lonely seniors

Croydon is widely considered to be a place where youth causes trouble. What seems to be overlooked is the growing number of the elderly within our borough.

We know that in Croydon the elderly make up quite a significant proportion of the community. People aged 65 years and over represent 13.8% of the Croydon population and residents aged 85 years and over represent 1.9%. These proportions are projected to increase to 16.27% and 2.91% respectively by 2030.

We know that with longer life expectancy, many of us will be working up to very advanced ages. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has already spoken of increasing the current retirement age from 65 to 70. And when we do eventually get to retire, what will we spend our time doing? Saga cruises? Catching up on reading the 50 best books of all time? Shopping at the new Croydon Westfield retail centre? It may sound like something to look forward to, but unfortunately becoming older sometimes comes with life-altering circumstances such as losing loved ones or health problems which could affect mobility. For some of Croydon’s elderly, the brutal reality can be one of social isolation and loneliness.

Let’s make ageing a positive part of life

As the population of older people grows, we all should make an effort to help growing older become a positive part of life no matter what ailments or circumstances there may be. There are some great organisations with branches in Croydon (such as Age UK) doing a fantastic job supporting the elderly. The one I would particularly like to talk about goes by the name of ‘Contact The Elderly’.

What they do is a little different – mainly because it involves eating delicious cakes and scones. Once a month on a Sunday for a few hours, volunteer drivers pick up elderly people from their homes and take them to the home of a host volunteer. There they can enjoy a cup of tea and good conversation. It may sound unremarkable, but the teas provide invaluable time for an elderly person experiencing social isolation to experience company – anecdotes, conversation and lots of laughter.

There’s a gap in Croydon between youth and the elderly

I personally feel that in Croydon there is a huge gap between our youth and our elderly. Activities like these can help close the gap and strengthen inter-generational links. Currently Croydon has two ‘Contact the Elderly’ groups, both enjoying teas once a month on a Sunday. I would like to see this number grow, making us a borough that cares and looks after those who have lived here and worked so hard for Croydon and the local area before reaching their retirement.

The teas are a great opportunity for conversation and for the elderly people and the volunteers to get to know people from the local area. Locations change but each person’s driver remains the same, giving friendships time to develop as the months go by. This contact is a simple but lovely way to brighten someone’s day and to spread a little joy.

Anyone, of any age and from any background, can become a volunteer. If you have just a little free time and would like to get involved, please find out more about ‘Contact The Elderly’ by visiting the website or call 0800 716 543.

The Croydon Citizen

The Croydon Citizen

The Croydon Citizen is a non-profit community news magazine for London's most populous borough.

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  • Anne Giles

    It’s a bit of a myth to think that anyone over 70 fits iinto these categories. I am 72 and the last thing I would want to do is to go on a Saga cruise, or catch up on reading the 50 best books of all time, nor would I want to eat cakes and scones once a month and drink tea with a load of elderly people. I would rather carry on mixing with my younger friends at Matthews Yard and also continue with my interaction with people on Twitter and Facebook, go to folk and rock gigs with my husband, as well as the cinema, restaurants, etc. No knitting, gardening or having grandchildren either.

    • Jeet

      Agreed Sean loneliness is an issue which effects not only the elderly. Hence why there are such organisation out there that offer free hugs. There is also more and more people living alone in rented accommodation who may find themselves feeling lonely, but that may also be a lifestyle choice. Also I am a huge advocate of social media and feel that it does bring you face to face and ear to ear as you put it with those you engage with, but this is a entirely new discussion.

      We have all seen reported in the news especially this week that we are all expected to live longer so I think there should be more awareness given to organisations such as contact the elderly, for those individuals that do experience a lack of social interaction or whatever the self limiting factors that may be.

      The mention of saga cruises and cakes are my personal preferences of what I would like to do once I am done working for a living. I also do no think that social media platforms are just for younger adults. It is known within the digital marketing community that people in the 55-64 age bracket are fastest growing demographic on Twitter. With this being said I think your perspective of aging in line with loneliness is an individual matter. I just think that it is great that organisations like this exist to bring people together especially within Croydon.

  • Sean Creighton

    Good for you Jeet. On issues such as loneliness and fostering inter-generational contact we need to put aside our own personal experiences. Each individual’s experience of loneliness or not feeling lonely is different. Loneliness can occur for one or both partners in a relationship. Even the most socially active can have feelings of being an outsider. You can know lots of people, but how many would you trust enough to share your anxieties and sense of loneliness with? There was an interesting discussion on Radio 3 on 11 April on loneliness as something that affects all age groups. It can be listened to via the R3 website. The point was made that loneliness affects all of our society – not just the elderly – but also those who have plenty of human contact. It seems that around one in ten people in Britain feel seriously lonely, and around a quarter are at significant risk of being lonely at any one time. This is linked to the fact that more and more people live alone, work more and see each other less. As a result, all manner of people find themselves without quality human contact. For me this raises important questions for the future of housing policy. Do we need less one and two bed properties in favour of specially designed housing clusters that have large shared spaces for residents to mix over a meal, activities, etc, with a good garden area for summer social use, as I experienced on my trip to the USA last year. However busy a person may be and socially mixing loneliness can still occur when s/he goes back home, especially at night, at weekends and bank holidays, especially for those who have anxieties which they cannot discuss with anyone as theyy occur. The more people withdraw into themselves, the greater the selfishness, the greater the world is seen through the eyes of ‘I’, the greater the likellihood of mental health problems, the more they become victims of unacceptable power because opposition reduces. Social media has many merits but one thing constant facebooking and tweeting does not do is bring you into face to face, or ear to ear (telephone) contact with people..We need an increasing mushrooming of inclusive, diverse opportunities for social interaction at a personal level fostered from below in the neighbourhoods in which we live. Welcoming new residents is a first step.