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Call for action as 21,000 older people suffer from social isolation in Norfolk

Active Norfolk's Mobile Me Festival at the UEA Sportspark.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Active Norfolk's Mobile Me Festival at the UEA Sportspark. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

Social isolation can be as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and with 21,000 people in Norfolk over the age of 65 lonely all or most of the time, efforts are today being made to combat the problem.

Chairmans Reception | Norfolk County Coucnil 29th September 2017
Steve Hitcham, Active Norfolk collecting their In Good Company Approved Award from Wendy Thomson (Far Left) and Chairman of NCC John Ward. Picture: Julian ClaxtonChairmans Reception | Norfolk County Coucnil 29th September 2017 Steve Hitcham, Active Norfolk collecting their In Good Company Approved Award from Wendy Thomson (Far Left) and Chairman of NCC John Ward. Picture: Julian Claxton

With the launch of the Norfolk Community Foundation Vital Signs report this week, loneliness among older people is in the spotlight.

It can exacerbate physical and mental health conditions, and with care provision unevenly spread and under-resourced across the county, an overwhelming 90pc of respondents to the survey felt more needs to be done to prevent rural isolation.

Chief executive of Norfolk Comnunity Foundation Graham Tuttle, right, said in the report: “With further budget cuts looming, the approach to health and social care provision is set to place an increasing emphasis on community providers to fill the gaps and help to manage demand for primary care.

“It is clear not everyone in Norfolk has equal access to community support, services and opportunities, and as statutory provision continues to contract, this inequality will become ever more stark.”

Chairmans Reception | Norfolk County Coucnil 29th September 2017
Chairman John WardChairmans Reception | Norfolk County Coucnil 29th September 2017 Chairman John Ward

The report highlights older people living alone will find it more difficult to access vital services, and that isolation raises the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s.

It goes on to say: “With statutory budgets critically stretched, community providers are being integrated more closely into health and social care plans as part of wider strategy to help people to live independently for longer, and reduce and delay demand for statutory care.”

The severity of the situation is being recognised by local authorities and community organisations.

As part of their In Good Company campaign, Norfolk County Council awarded 21 organisations quality approval marks for the work they do to tackle loneliness in the county.

Active Norfolk's Mobile Me Festival at the UEA Sportspark.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYActive Norfolk's Mobile Me Festival at the UEA Sportspark. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Among those are seven organisations granted Plus marks, for going above and beyond the general remit of their day-to-day work to tackle a loneliness problem in their communities.

One was Active Norfolk, which runs Mobile Me - hosting sport activities and bringing together hundreds of sheltered housing and care home residents in Norwich and Broadland. Ben Jones, director of Active Norfolk, said: “Improving physical health improves their strength and reduces the likelihood of falls. That helps them live independently for longer. The mental health benefits include getting involved in fun activities and meeting new people. That helps improve their self esteem and confidence. There is a huge social element to it.

“If you get people moving in the right direction it breaks down barriers and leads to further improvement. If people withdraw it could have an equally detrimental effect.

“Many of the participants have spoken really positively about the significant difference the project has made to their lives and general happiness.”

One of those is Linda Olley, 61, from Hellesdon, who has been attending for a year after being diagnosed with diabetes.

She attended the Mobile Me festival last week, proudly wearing a gold medal won for curling.

“It is helping me very much indeed and the hospital want me to carry on doing all this exercise,” she said. “I have met new friends and it has helped me feel much better. It is a good way to meet new people and I enjoy it very much.”

Around 500 people have attended Mobile Me over the last two years, and Mr Jones wants to expand the project.

“One of the main purposes of this is a research project. It is being thoroughly evaluated by the UEA to understand the benefits of promoting physical activity. Then those lessons can be applied elsewhere.

“Once we have developed the evidence the intention would be to scale it up and seek investment from health providers to widen access. We are developing a referral mechanism to allow people to get access to this type of activity and are piloting it in a number of areas around the county.”

Wendy Thomson, managing director of Norfolk County Council said: “People who are lonely are more likely to suffer ill health, more likely to be reliant on public services and more likely to lose their independence. The first recipients of these new quality approval marks shine a light on the vital work being done.”

Challenge to youth

Norfolk County Council chairman John Ward has announced a new challenge for his year in office by inviting young people in Norfolk to help tackle loneliness in their local communities and calling for more adult volunteers to support youth organisations.

Speaking at a reception to launch the challenge, attended by a number of youth organisations* and civic dignitaries, Councillor Ward said: “During my year in office, I want to draw attention to Norfolk’s youth organisations and the marvellous youth development work which goes on in our communities.

“So I have invited these organisations to take part in my ‘Young people’s Chairman’s Challenge’ and in particular to engage with lonely, isolated or vulnerable people in their local communities as part of our In Good Company campaign to combat loneliness in Norfolk.

“I also want to encourage more adult volunteering, particularly with youth organisations.”

Support available

Grants are available for community groups to build on the work already being done to tackle loneliness.

Healthy Norwich is a collaboration between NHS Norwich Clinical Commissioning Group, Public Health at Norfolk County Council, Norwich City Council and Broadland District Council. Healthy Norwich lead Rachel Hunt said: “Our grants scheme with Norfolk Community Foundation provides a unique opportunity to connect with some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities in the city and enables small groups to provide sustainable, community led interventions to enhance positive wellbeing and prevent ill health. With the current challenges facing the NHS, social prescribing is seen as a mechanism to support primary care to be more sustainable. This can only be achieved through integration between health and social care and our voluntary and community sector assets.”

The first In Good Company approved organisations are as follows:

In Good Company Approved Plus Mark

Active Norfolk

Bee Seated, Great Yarmouth

Cavell Court Care Home, Cringleford

Extra Care Home Service, North Walsham

Harleston Information Plus

North Walsham Good Neighbours Scheme

Yare Valley Churches, Brundall

In Good Company Approved Mark

Age Concern Swaffham

Age UK Norfolk

Age UK Norwich

Butterfly Butties, King’s Lynn

Caister on Sea Women’s Institute

Charles Burrell Centre, Thetford

Community Action Norwich

Holt Community Café Association

Merchant’s Place Community Resource and Learning Centre, Cromer

Pets As Therapy

Sing Your Heart Out

SWAN (Support Women’s Activity Network), Walcott

Thetford University of the Third Age

West Norfolk Befriending, King’s Lynn

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