As part of Abbeyfield’s annual Companionship at Christmas campaign to tackle loneliness experienced by some older people at Christmas and beyond, the Kingslodge Inn, Durham, hosted a three-course meal with live entertainment for more than 100 elderly people living alone.
“Pubs are real cornerstones in the community, having long-held a tradition and reputation for being places where you are welcomed in to relax and enjoy the company of a great mix of people in a warm, secure environment,” according to Alastair Mulvie, director of fundraising at The Abbeyfield Society. “Many are open all day and offer a place where people can come in and meet up with others without the stigma of being alone.
“We are committed to tackling the growing plight of older people living alone, whose lives are blighted by loneliness at Christmas and beyond through bereavement, through the pressures of modern living – where emails, texts and social media is replacing face-to-face contact – and through families often living in different parts of the country.
“Working with pub companies like The Inn Collection Group is helping us to support older people to enjoy actual social connections in their local communities, fostering neighbourliness and a spirit of togetherness which is fundamental to what Abbeyfield does, long after the Christmas cards and tinsel have been packed away.”
Latest figures from Age UK reveal that 3.6m people in the UK live alone, with 1.9m people claiming they feel invisible.
Providing an outlet
Attending the Christmas event was 81-year-old Millicent Harrison, a former personal assistant who has no immediate family and lives alone. “I lost my husband 24 years ago, but it just seems like yesterday,” she explained.
“When I was widowed, I went out and joined different organisations, it gave me an outlet. I would go on cruises but coming back to an empty house was awful. There was no one to show your pictures to – I don’t know what was worse – going or coming back.
“The hardest thing is the isolation. My friends are getting older – I live at the top of the hill and I’m the only one of my friends that drives. My neighbours that I have known for years have moved or passed away and, these days, people text rather than call, and I feel isolated.
“I never remarried – I had the perfect husband. We had no family. We did everything together. I didn’t want anyone else because I had the best.”
She and more than 100 others were joined by former engineer and widower Tony Rickaby, 76, who lives alone after his wife Patricia died two years ago. “This is Christmas – it’s as near to Christmas as I’ll get,” he said of The Abbeyfield Society, Age UK and The Inn Collection Group-hosted get-together.
“We should have gone together,” he added. “We did everything together. Now that she’s gone I don’t really want to go out. I haven’t got the urge to go anywhere anymore. You get into a rut. Like a lot of people I’ll be glad when I’m gone. There’s nothing much for me now.”
A pull on your heartstrings
“Pubs can be like a family for people who live alone,” Sean Donkin, managing director of The Inn Collection Group, said. “They’re familiar, social spaces with no airs or graces where people know they’ll be made welcome.
“It really does pull on your heartstrings when you hear of the invisible plight so many older people face when they’re living alone. We have customers who come into our inns and our staff may be the only ones they’ll have a physical conversation with for days.
“We are very proud to be working in partnership with Abbeyfield and Age UK to address the issue of loneliness by using our pubs across the group as hubs to welcome in older people who live alone, whether through events and activities like our lunch club and Christmas party in Durham, training staff to be Dementia Friends and supporting them to identify and make time to chat with people who are on their own.”