Rotarians who have been working to alleviate loneliness and isolation are hoping the recent appointment of a Minister for Loneliness will enable rapid progress to be made.
Supporting the Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign launched by JPIMedia’s Sussex titles, Mike Harvey from Chichester Priory Rotary Club said: “Thank you for your crusade on loneliness.”
He highlighted the club’s Bridging Generations project, which brings together older people who feel isolated and young people studying at Chichester College.
Mr Harvey said: “It is a win-win situation. The students get to practise their skills in conducting conversations, learn much from the elders and the elders meet students to give them some of their life experiences.
“We have approached the local MP to progress the concept through to the newly-appointed Minister for Loneliness. The best conduit is through the Rotary world because it’s a safe haven for risk assessments, insurance and protection issues.”
The Bridging Generations project was started in 2013, bringing together lonely and isolated people in Chichester with health and social care students, aged 16 to 19.
Mr Harvey explained: “The idea is to help students feel comfortable talking to their elders and enable elders from 60 to 95 years to enjoy a day out chatting to the students and lunching together.”
Each meeting takes place in the Students Union at the college every other Tuesday morning, term time, from 11am to midday, followed by lunch in the college restaurant.
Mr Harvey said: “It’s purely a conversational meeting. Topics are discussed in a round-table manner, with students mixed with the elders and rotated to give elders a chance to chat to every student attending.
“There are or eight or nine tables with biscuits and coffee provided by the college. About 20 elders and 30 students mingle at each meeting.
“For students, it’s a bit like talking to granny or grandpa but to someone else’s. Think how successful that can be. There is no pressure to conform to the curriculum or worry about the tutor taking control of the session. The tutors are present but allow students free rein to chat.
“We have noticed how far ranging the discussions can go, sometimes touching on quite sensitive subjects. It is also clear that the students in the restaurant develop their greeting and serving skills at lunch, supervised by their tutor.”
Mr Harvey said isolated and lonely people were identified by word of mouth but it was important the Rotary team filtered requests to protect the students.
An introductory phone call will explain the project and the format of the meetings, to see whether they suit the individuals who might be interested.
For anyone with a mobility problem, one of the community buses is used to pick up them up, or a Rotariain may step in to help, and this is the only cost to the club. Room hire and refreshments are paid by the college, and the older people pay for their own lunches.
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