Loneliness affects everybody, no matter your age. But imagine being forcibly lonely because your spouse and friends have passed away, or because of mobility restraints and having to rely on stairlifts and wheelchairs. This is the reality for thousands of older people across the UK. Rob’s charity b:Friend is looking to combat loneliness in Doncaster.
Rob is a 32-year-old living at his parents’ home in Doncaster. Unlike a lot of men his age, Rob’s usual hangouts don’t involve spending his evenings down the pub. Instead, he spends a lot of his time with lonely older people.
Rob moved to London in his mid-20s working in social media and marketing for some big names. Rob found the big smoke a lonely place, and often found himself spending evenings out on his own. Rob soon started looking for new ways to meet new people. “A friend mentioned a charity in North London, which matched young professionals with their older neighbours to help one another out.”
Rob was paired with 73-year-old Mitsi, and the pair soon hit it off. Mitsi became Rob’s constant in London, she would give him advice on girlfriends and help with his job woes. She was even a shoulder for Rob after the death of a close friend.
But after feeling unfulfilled in his career and yearning to do more with his time, Rob eventually moved back home into his parents’ house in October 2016. “I had no idea what I was going to do. I just felt I needed to be back home in Doncaster – even if I didn’t know anyone my age who lived there. I kept thinking about Mitsi. I knew I was passionate about helping people overcome loneliness,” says Rob.
After an unsuccessful search for a charity or organisation to combat loneliness in his area, Rob soon began training to spot the signs of loneliness and dementia and set up his own organisation, b:Friend. “It wasn’t all smooth sailing though,” says Rob. “I didn’t have enough money to staff or grow the charity, let alone pay myself. I said I’d give it until January 2018 and then, just like the best Christmas present ever, a month later I was awarded £250,000 of lottery funding over three years. It was a total game-changer and meant I could afford one full-time and two part-time members of staff.”
Today b:Friend has 50 volunteers and helps around 150 people per week. The charity also looks to break the stereotypes surrounding older people. “Our social events aren’t about bingo and bunting, we do everything from street dancing and cheerleading to wine tasting and film clubs – anything that goes against the clichéd gran and grandad grain.
And it's about more than having a quick chat. It’s building a meaningful connection with someone over a long time – not just for a few weeks.
This is about an older person knowing someone out there cares and truly values them, like Mitsi and me. Older people have so much to give – and a little time with them goes a long way.”