October-November 2022 | Features

Loneliness is a mental health problem

Loneliness is a mental health problem

Rotarians in Chichester, West Sussex are successfully providing a haven for people suffering from loneliness.

The Bridging Generations project was conceived by Mike Harvey, a Past President of the Rotary Club of Chichester Priory, to alleviate loneliness amongst the elderly residents of Chichester.

The project works by bringing lonely elderly residents together with the students at Chichester College for a conversation over coffee and cake.

Bridging Generations was the result of research done by community workers and caring organisations which consistently pointed to a widespread problem of isolation amongst elderly residents of Chichester.

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It was evident that a hands-on project was needed to address this issue and Mike was set on making the project a success once he received the green light from Chichester College.

Mike consulted organisations such as Meals on Wheels and Age Concern, as well as local sheltered housing groups, to find residents who would benefit from the project.

Speaking to the Chichester Observer, Mike recalls: “The project started with a small group but has now grown to about 20 elders and 30 students meeting every two weeks in term time.

Bridging generations meeting between the students and the members.

“They sit at mixed tables, moving around after a quarter of an hour – a topic for conversation is usually suggested and this leads to a friendly chat.”

While the club provides transport for residents taking part, the college provides refreshments and the all-important space for Bridging Generations to operate.

As well as being highly beneficial for the elderly residents, the project has become an important part of improving the student’s communication skills, especially those studying Health and Social Care.

The college went as far as to make the project part of their ‘social skills’ training and to include the project in its Ofsted Report.

With talks and activities, there is an opportunity for everyone to enjoy themselves.

The relationship with the college has allowed Chichester Priory Rotary to promote its programme of youth projects, such as camps, tours and exchanges, to the students.

The success of the project has been immense, with a steady flow of returning participants and jubilant feedback from both the elderly and the students.

One of the elders, Vera Cranmer, said of the project: “Sometimes I’m not sure if I want to go out, but when I come back I feel I’ve had a good morning.

“Now my mobility isn’t so good, I go on the Monday Club transport, which is brilliant – I couldn’t manage it without that.”

Other clubs have been in contact with Chichester Priory Rotary looking to replicate the project for their local areas, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The project is always looking for new people to take part in and aims to keep alive the art of conversation for those who need it the most.

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