Small things can make a big difference in tackling loneliness

In February The Guardian published an article by Owen Jones on the small ways we tackle loneliness. Here are four responses to that piece – Esther Rantzen on a successful helpline, Ken Baldry on the University of the Third Age, Iain Gilmour blames the dash for cash, and E Douglas Lawson tells a sad tale

This is an edited version of an article first published by The Guardian

Esther Rantzen, President of Childline and The Silver Line 

I was glad to read Owen Jones’s article drawing attention to the dangerous effects of loneliness on every age, which he describes as an epidemic (Journal, 7 February). From callers to Childline and The Silver Line, we know how loneliness erodes self-esteem and damages mental and physical health, and – when the sufferer believes that nobody knows or cares about them – can lead to suicide.

Excellent as the projects Owen recommends are, I believe no one silver bullet can heal this epidemic. It needs all of us to unite, to make time to have real conversations with each other, to knock on a neighbour’s door, to telephone an older member of the family. Small things can make a huge difference.

The good news is that The Silver Line has proved, in less than six years, that by providing a helpline which is free, confidential and open all through the year, day and night, we can provide support when the pangs of loneliness strike most painfully – on Sunday afternoons, or at three in the morning. As one caller told me, ‘For the first time, I felt I was not completely alone and that night, for the first time since my husband died, I had a good night’s sleep.’

Ken Baldry, London

Owen Jones does not mention the University of the Third Age, an enormous network of retired people’s clubs, where we give each other classes, play bridge and go on rambles – there are 39 in London alone! I lecture on European history (of which the English are woefully ignorant) and classical music, my wife on early 20th-century art. There is a flat, inexpensive fee for a year, and one can join any class not fully-attended.

Iain Gilmour, Ramsgate, Kent

Owen Jones is right that loneliness is a national crisis, but his analysis of the cause is wrong; it is the mistaken belief that ‘value for money’ equates solely to cutting costs, hence the profusion of self-serve checkouts in shops, banks and libraries. If human interaction was valued as highly as hard cash, we might have avoided this crisis of our own making.

E Douglas Lawson, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire 

Walking along a street of bungalows in Cheltenham in the summer, I remarked to an elderly woman working in her front garden what a lovely, sunny day it was. She came over to me and said: “You are the first person who has spoken to me in 18 days. If it wasn’t for the television, I don’t know what I would do.”

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