As the first Advent calendar doors open this Thursday (December 1st), older people’s charity Abbeyfield will be throwing open its own, as its houses and homes across the country welcome in isolated older people during December and beyond.
Abbeyfield, which was founded 60 years ago to counter social isolation and loneliness in the elderly, has launched Companionship at Christmas, offering vulnerable older people blighted by seasonal loneliness free, festive events across its 500 plus houses nationwide.
Companionship at Christmas events – including Christmas baking clubs, pub lunches, mince pies and carols through to Christmas Day lunches and even overnight stays for those who would otherwise be waking up to an empty house on December 25 – all in the company of others – are all being offered by Abbeyfield.
An estimated 500,000 older people will spend this Christmas alone.
A recent survey conducted by Abbeyfield found that nine out of ten older people said that company was crucial to a good Christmas. Of those surveyed, 73 per cent felt that sharing food in the company of others was an essential ingredient of a good Christmas.
The findings bring home the reality of loneliness and isolation that so many older people face during what should be one of the happiest times of the year.
Living on her own for almost a quarter of a century since she lost her husband, 78-year-old Mary enjoys a full and active life – she fully admits to enjoying her own company and has a passion for ballroom dancing.
But on Christmas Day itself, she finds herself feeling isolated and alone with her usual clubs closed down for the holidays. Her way of coping was to shut out the fact it was Christmas, pretending it was just another day.
“I’d get up and try not to think about it being Christmas. I’d have a sandwich or something and at tea time, an ordinary cup of tea and go to bed and try to forget it was Christmas Day,” said Mary.
“You find yourself thinking even more about the people you’ve loved who aren’t around you any more and it makes you feel so sad and even more alone.
“I have a lovely daughter who works so hard. Because of her work, she can’t take time off at Christmas so we don’t get to see each other. I know that’s just how it is these days. It is a very lonely time, but you find ways to get through it.”
But this year, Marie will be spending Christmas Day in the company of others at her local Abbeyfield House in Nottingham where she is a regular visitor.
“I’m looking forward to Christmas – the food, having people around you, even helping with the washing up – it’s all part of the fun and is something I haven’t had for such a long time.”
Abbeyfield chief executive Natasha Singarayer said: “Abbeyfield’s founding ethos was of alleviating loneliness and isolation. Now, 60 years later, we are still doing all we can to counter the growing epidemic of loneliness felt by older people with our Companionship at Christmas campaign.
“Enjoying a fun-filled Christmas surrounded by family and friends is something we often take for granted. It’s heart-breaking to think that for an estimated 500,000 older people across the UK, Christmas is a time of crushing loneliness and isolation, intensifying painful memories of lost loved ones, bereavement and the fear and stigma of being alone and a burden to others.
“Companionship at Christmas will be providing just that – warmth, friendship, and of course great food – during the festive period and beyond. We hope as many people as possible will find Companionship at Christmas with us in 2016, enjoying friendship, laughter and festive food in the company of others.”
Companionship at Christmas will offer company, free events, entertainment, overnight stays and a feast of festive food to over-55s living alone across the UK throughout the festive period and beyond.
- If you are living alone and want to find out more about Companionship at Christmas or are concerned about a neighbour, friend or family member who is isolated, contact Abbeyfield on 01727 734 167.