Love Thy Neighbour: combatting the epidemic of loneliness in Croydon

By - Friday 5th June, 2015

Jonny Rose suggests some practical – and tech – solutions to the loneliness problem in Croydon

“No man is an island” – John Donne

The epidemic of loneliness

Last month’s In Touch on Radio 4 focused on the plight of the deafblind in Britain and the difficulty that they have in forming and maintaining friendships.

One statistic in particular caught my attention: 6% of deafblind people contacted by the charity SENSE for its friendship survey said that they have no friends at all, and almost a third see their friends just once per month or less. This is isn’t a problem limited to those without sight and vision. According to the Telegraph, nearly five million people in the UK have no close friends.

Jeet Sandhu has written before on the impact of loneliness on Croydon’s elderly populace. Similarly, David White has written on the issue and its other attendant effects. In both cases, however, the presumption has been that loneliness is an ailment for the elderly when in fact in 2010 the Mental Health Foundation found loneliness to be a greater concern among young people. The 18- to 34-year-olds surveyed were more likely to feel lonely often, to worry about feeling alone and to feel depressed because of loneliness than the over-55s.

Like homelessness, loneliness is a social ill that is right on our doorsteps in Croydon.

The effects of loneliness are manifold: disrupted sleep, raised blood pressure, weakened immunity, increased depression and lower feelings of well-being. That loneliness is a health issue would not have been a surprise to Mother Teresa who once said that “[t[he biggest disease today is not leprosy or cancer or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody.”

Now, doctors have quantified the effects of the loneliness disease, we know that lonely people are nearly twice as likely to die prematurely as those who do not suffer feelings of isolation. Being lonely, it seems, isn’t just an unfortunate circumstance of life – it’s a killer.

How can we can combat loneliness in Croydon

As ever, it’s too easy to make these problems that are ‘out there’ and rely on faceless agencies to deal with the problem. What can we do as Croydon citizens to make our fellow Croydonians’ lives a little less bleak?

Encourage the lonely to use social networks: Despite some saying social media has made us more alienated than ever, social networks provide a wonderful way to get to know locals. From Twitter to Facebook to Just Croydon, there is a whole variety of platforms that allow even the loneliest to engage with fellow locals at the click of a button.

Create non-threatening social events: Lots of seemingly innocuous social events are teeming with complexity or require you to have a specialist knowledge to enjoy them. Food is a particularly egalitarian pursuit with a low barrier to entry that transcends class, religion and gender. There are lots of genial, welcoming food groups in Croydon, including Purley Breakfast Club, South Croydon Community Association, Croydon Eats Out, etc. Even if you don’t need or use them, do your bit to make them known to anyone you know who is lonely.

Do some proactive volunteerism: AgeUK Croydon runs a ‘Befriender’ scheme where volunteers make home visits to over-50s to do anything from administrative support to accompanying them to the shops. Contact The Elderly runs a similar scheme in Croydon, too. Why not dedicate three hours a month to do some volunteering through them.

Phone someone: Last year, Radio 5 Live launched a #Take10 initiative to encourage listeners to think about who they could spend 10 minutes talking to. Sports people, famous presenters and listeners all responded, pledging to call old friends: a simple, short conversation can go a long way.

Support tech startups solving loneliness: Last year at Croydon Tech City, Dominic Campbell spoke about his start-up Casserole Club, a website that allows you to sign up as a cook and search for diners in your area. Connect people who like to cook and are up for sharing an extra plate of hot, home-cooked food with a neighbour who could really benefit from one. The Casserole project is now growing after a successful pilot, in which over 200 plates of food were shared, in the Reigate and Banstead area last year. Sign up on the site to show that there is demand in Croydon!

Practice the art of being neighbourly: Often the lonely really are literally on your doorstep. Consider those that live around you and how you can non-invasively and respectfully cultivate relationships with them. If you’re stuck for ideas, I encourage you to check out a book called The Art of Neighboring.

These are just a few ways that readers can prevent loneliness from being an everyday occurrence for thousands of Croydonians. If anyone has any more suggestions or idea, please do leave them below!

The next Croydon Tech City event takes place on Thursday 18th June at 7:30pm at Matthews Yard. Sign up now – it’s a warm, welcoming environment whether you are lonely or not!

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He owns a lead generation company. He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training and a Linkedin lead generation service. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

More Posts - Twitter

  • Pass The Deutschy

    As a Christian myself this is an issue very close to my heart as well. I am very keen to display the love of God to those around me as my neighbours and friends, I believe it is the mandate of the church to reach out to the lonely and I’m VERY proud of the deaf community we have in my local assembly and all we’ve done to accommodate people from all backgrounds including alcoholics and mental health issues. I am so pleased to see that this is being taken seriously in Croydon and it makes me happy that the community spirit of our town is being revived and kept alive and we should be very proud of that. I strongly believe as well that we solve the issue of our own loneliness when we solve it in others and I learnt this when I used to volunteer, sometimes it’s scary to reach out to others but in the long run we always benefit more by doing it than not doing it. A wonderful article.

    • Anne Giles

      There again, mentioning a God that many do not believe in would make them want to run a mile.

      • Pass The Deutschy

        Speak for yourself Anne, firstly most people believe in something whether God, a spirit, a higher force or whatever and secondly no one cares what someone believes if they are helping them. Would you care if your doctor told you he or she was Muslim? Would it make you run a mile? When I worked in a homeless shelter most of the people there knew we were Christians and they still ate our food, played games with us and I still see some of those people to this day and they say hello as well. What is the purpose of believing in a God you believe has the answers to people’s troubles if you keep that to yourself and don’t do anything for anyone? That’s a rather selfish religion -Jesus went about doing good and so will I! Let’s also remember that it was people who believed in “a God that many do not believe in” that abolished slavery, ensured free education for children, set public holy days (holidays) and set up the welfare state so many unbelievers can benefit too. No one is forcing anyone to believe anything but if I am asked as to my motive for doing the things I do, I will not be ashamed to confess Christ and don’t see why I should be either.

        • Anne Giles

          Sorry – you misunderstood. Of course, many Church people help others. But there are some who, in doing so, start throwing religion at them, which they should not do at all.

          • Pass The Deutschy

            Let’s not be tedious. What do you mean by “throwing religion” at people? Telling them that Jesus Saves? Inviting them to church? Offering prayer? These are things Christians are expected to do because Jesus desires all people know the truth of the gospel and be saved and it is mandated that Christians who understand what an eternity without Jesus is should share that or are you saying that anyone who believes there is a hell to be shunned should keep that to themselves? That’s a bit like telling people with the cure for cancer to shut up and stop “ramming it down people’s throats.” Most Christians are Christian because someone threw religion at them only they caught it. I’m not bothered when I see Muslims preaching on the streets so why does someone else’s beliefs bother you especially when they use them to do good? That’s the real crux of the matter. What’s really going on there?

          • Anne Giles

            Muslims don’t preach on the street, neither do Jews or any other religion. I was helped today by Helios, the Sun God, who – aware that we were going to an outdoor barbecue today – made sure that the sun shone all day.

          • Pass The Deutschy

            Again Anne with the wrongness. Of course Muslims witness on the street, they have in Croydon, last week some were out in Lewisham and the week before I passed some giving out info and spreading the word of Islam outside Stratford station. Am I meant to find it off-putting that you mention Helios because he’s a god many don’t believe in? Sun gods are a dime a dozen…

  • helen@togetherfriends

    All good suggestions here on how to address loneliness. It is important to find what works best for you and persevere with it. You may feel nervous about getting out there and meeting new people but even the most confident may struggle at the start. It takes time to build friendships and relationships but stick with it and you will find people friendly, supportive and welcoming. Volunteering is a brilliant idea – gives you something to focus on, provides new skills and you will naturally interact with other people.

  • Dave Roberts

    as well as folk from churches visiting and doing some kind of wowchurch with folk in their homes… I do it down here on the South Coast and willing to show folk how to do it etc…

    • Anne Giles

      The danger there is that they might throw religion at you.

  • Bernadette Fallon

    Some great ideas there – and I just signed up for Casserole Club. Hopefully more of us from Croydon will do the same and they can get it up and running here. I just moved (back) here a year ago and found Twitter the best place to meet people – who I then went on to meet in ‘real life’. Every single person I know in Croydon has come from Twitter!

    • Anne Giles

      Same here!

  • Stephen Giles

    “over-50s” – I beg your pardon???