6 Reasons Why You Should Become A Buddy

The BuddyHub pilot is up and running in Islington, North London, and we’re recruiting Buddies to join the ‘Friendship Wheel’ of an older person or Senior.  A ‘Friendship Wheel’ is a new social network of four people – a Senior and their three new Buddies are matched because they share common interests and live close by. By creating ‘Friendship Wheels’ we’re alleviating and preventing loneliness and isolation and connecting communities.

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6 reasons why you should become a Buddy.

Helping and supporting other people has been proven to boost your mental well-being.

It’s not our income, home, car, or job that counts. Evidence shows that what we do and the way we think have the biggest impact on our mental wellbeing. Positive mental wellbeing means feeling good about yourself and the world around you.

Volunteering a little time can make you feel happier and more satisfied with life.

Acts of kindness towards other people – such as volunteering in your local community – can give you a sense of purpose and enhance feelings of self-worth.

Relationships with others helps to improve our mental well-being.

Giving our time to others in a constructive way helps us strengthen our relationships and build new ones improving our mental wellbeing.

Giving to others creates happy feelings.

Giving to others and co-operating with them can stimulate the reward areas in the brain, creating positive feelings. Helping others also boosts self-esteem making people feel effective and capable.

Giving time to others helps make time for yourself.

The best way to cultivate “time affluence” – the feeling of having lots of time for the things you want to do – is to give time away by helping others. You may prefer spending time on yourself but it doesn’t produce this sense of ‘time affluence’ – only volunteering delivers a major boost in time affluence enhancing your sense that time is voluminous.

Giving your time to others will reduce stress.

By giving your time to others you can tap into the “abundance mind-set” whereby time used to accomplish something feels longer. Research also shows people who give time to others become objectively more productive – giving time creates time helping you feel less stressed and busy!!

So there you have it! Sign up as a Buddy, create more time for yourself and reap the rewards!!

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Some of these thoughts were inspired by Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian: ‘This column will change your life: make time for yourself by giving time to others’.

Catherine McClen, Founder BuddyHub

Mobile: +447879404396 | catherine@buddyhub.co.uk |Twitter: @Buddy_Hub | www.buddyhub.co.uk | LinkedIn: https://goo.gl/6mB5Ig

 

 

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BuddyHub: Why We Do What We Do

There’s something particularly nice about having launched the BuddyHub pilot in Islington as its the place I’ve called home for almost 23 years (OK for 8 years I was just over the border in Hackney but I’m not going to split that hair).  So how did the BuddyHub journey start?

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For the first 17 years of my London life I really didn’t know anybody in my local community as I toiled away in the world of finance. I left that world nearly six years ago and have since spent a lot of time doing voluntary work as I searched for a more purposeful life. That has been rewarding in so many ways and one particular upside is that I now know rather a lot of people living and working in Islington.

That sense of community was something I’d really missed growing up in a large village near Newcastle, where people were friendly and chatting to strangers was normal: there are so many things to love about London but the lack of community is not one of them.

A couple of years ago I started hearing a lot about loneliness and isolation amongst older people in the media. Being on my lonesome, after the end of a long relationship, I remember thinking how chatting to a lonely older person could be just the ticket. But then I’d already discovered the secret of how wonderful the company of older people can be having two very dear older friends who were just turning 90.

Having applied to a couple of befriending charities I was surprised to find I was hesitating to move forward. Aside from the arduous application process I found the 1-2 hours time commitment per week off-putting, as I was looking to return to full time work, and worried someone could became dependent on me and I might let them down.

Soon after, I saw a news story about a discharge nurse in a Yorkshire hospital who felt so distressed about older patients returning home, when they lived alone with no support network, that she was supplying them with bread and milk for £2 so they could at least have some tea and toast. After a hospital stay a few years before I could really imagine how awful this would be and felt despair and some anger that this was happening in our society.

I thought more about the reasons that had stopped me becoming a befriender. My light bulb moment was simply that if I could share visiting with another couple of people then my hesitation would fade away. An older person or ‘Senior’ would be matched to three new Buddies living close by who shared some of their interests. The Buddies could communicate and organise visiting via a chat room and would also get to know each other and meet face to face.

I would call this new micro-community a Friendship Wheel: Buddies would encourage and enable Seniors’ to engage in activities in their community and perhaps offer a little help when needed.

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BuddyHub would help bring older people back into the heart of our community where they belong: It would become like a family for those who don’t have one and a second family for those who do but don’t see them often. This is the BuddyHub vision and I was delighted to be one of 17 organisations in the UK to be awarded an UnLtd ‘Do It Award’ to tackle this issue and help me get started.

It’s been a long and interesting journey since then. I’ve learned so much and am hugely grateful for all the pro bono help and encouragement I’ve received: so many people care that there are older people who feel lonely and isolated and want to help.

The time has now come to harness all that goodwill and recruit 30 Buddies to match with the ten lovely Seniors who have joined our pilot. And that’s where you come in!

Meeting and talking to so many older people around Islington since I started the BuddyHub journey has been an interesting, privileged and joyful experience. And I hope that being a Buddy and receiving the gift of friendship in our often lonely metropolis will mean people feel less like they are volunteering their time and more like they are happily spending it.

A huge thanks to everyone who has already signed up as a Buddy and calling out to all those Islington residents who would like to connect up their communities and help us achieve the BuddyHub vision. You’ll be happier for it, I promise!

Catherine McClen, Founder BuddyHub

Mobile: +447879404396 | catherine@buddyhub.co.uk |Twitter: @Buddy_Hub | www.buddyhub.co.uk | LinkedIn: https://goo.gl/6mB5Ig

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Is once a week enough for you?

We’re talking about meeting friends of course, nothing else! And in particular, is meeting up with a friend for an hour or so a week often enough for anyone? That’s the schedule many older people are allocated in traditional befriending schemes to alleviate loneliness. I know, however, that I like to see and have contact with my friends more often and more spontaneously, and I don’t expect to feel any different when I’m in my 70s, 80s or beyond.

Another issue is whether befriending relationships are close enough to a real friendship to really work? Opinion seems to be a bit divided.  Some research suggests that group activities where the user has input into the design are what’s needed to address loneliness and that befriending doesn’t work. Others, though, have produced qualitative evidence that befriending works to reduce loneliness, though there is less quantitative evidence to back that up. One befriending organisation found that whilst older people generally enjoy the relationship, they are less positive than the volunteers about befriending overall: that was taken to show how difficult it can be to change loneliness.

Has traditional befriending had its day?
Apparently the Department of Health had wanted to champion befriending as a good intervention though didn’t go ahead. The Big Lottery, however, has identified befriending as one of its priority funding areas, according to Befriending Networks. So where does this leave us on the benefits of befriending for older people? We think a horses for courses approach is important: you need to start by understanding the reasons for someone feeling lonely. For example let’s think about one type of loneliness – emotional loneliness – whereby someone is lacking a close friend or partner. If you’re going to tackle that then you need to know which one it is. In the best cases befriending could lead to the creation of a close friendship (although given that the average length of relationship for all types of befriending is 15-18 months that may not happen). However, if you’re actually suffering from romantic loneliness then a close platonic friendship will not cut the mustard.

GSOH or LTR?*
In Age Friendly Ireland’s report ‘Only the Lonely’ one study of over 65’s in Ireland reported relatively high levels of romantic loneliness though low levels of social and family loneliness. That reminded me of a quote by Maggie Kuhn of The Grey Panthers that learning and sex should only stop with rigor mortis. It also suggests that the desire for a mate is something that probably doesn’t wane with age. If so then good dating services for older people may be needed as much or more than befriending to tackle loneliness. More be-dating and less be-friending anyone?

Limited reach
Now let’s consider another big challenge with befriending: providing enough volunteers. ‘Befriending Networks’ report that only 1 in 300 older people in Edinburgh have access to a volunteer befriender and that funding for the befriending sector is much needed. Similarly, an impact report from a befriending service in Northern Ireland estimated that in one borough there were 4,500 older people living alone who could benefit from one to one befriending services but they had only 45 volunteers. Most surveys tend to suggest that around 10% of older people are lonely most of the time suggesting 450 of those older people are actually lonely. In Edinburgh that implies 30 of those 300 older people are lonely: yet there are only enough befrienders for 1 of those 30. This back of the envelope maths suggests that existing befriending schemes may only be reaching between 3-10% of older people who are experiencing loneliness.

Friends with benefits
If befriending is considered a good intervention then we need two things to happen to bump up those percentages – lots more volunteers and lots more money to run befriending schemes. Let’s deal with the pesky old money problem first. With 1/3 of councils cutting meals on wheels then there’s little chance of more local funding for befriending projects. The Big Lottery is helping but it can only fund so much and probably not forever. Health and social care budgets (with the latter being cut at the moment) are already under huge pressure from an ageing population. All this suggests that to boost befriending services, new and alternative sources of funding need to be found. This might include people paying for the service themselves, adult children paying for a parent’s subscription or subscriptions sponsored by membership organisations. Traditional grant funded services would perhaps be reserved only for those who absolutely can’t afford to pay. That’s never going to be a popular assertion but given the growing numbers of older people and therefore lonely older people that may be the eventual reality.

Connections that last
To get lots more volunteers involved in helping to alleviate loneliness and isolation of some older people the view at BuddyHub is that you have to persuade lots of people who would never become traditional befrienders to break the ice and become friends with their older neighbours. And that means breaking down some of the barriers to traditional befriending: time commitment, inflexibility and issues of dependency in a one to one relationship. That’s what we’re trying to do at BuddyHub and we know it’s not going to be easy. We’re hoping to create a personalised service for lonely older people that builds them a new social network so they get to see new friends a bit more regularly than once a week –
 more like the natural friendships we find for ourselves, than one manufactured for older age.

So where does that leave us on befriending? Well there’s no doubt that thousands of older people have had and are having their lives enriched by wonderful volunteers who give up their time each week to visit them. We can only humbly salute those volunteers and all the organisations that facilitate these connections. However, befriending is currently a service that is free to the user and it can only scratch the surface of the problem given the sheer and growing numbers of lonely older people.

Something else is needed to fill the gap in peoples’ social and emotional lives, building on the strengths of existing services and reinventing befriending to meet existing and growing future demand. Your views are welcome on what that could be, so please leave a comment here.

* GSOH: Good Sense Of Humour
LTR: Long Term Relationship

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Old and Lonely? Of course you are!

‘Forget sex, or politics or religion – loneliness is the subject that clears out a room’: so says Douglas Coupland a novelist who knows a thing or two about our postmodernist society having popularised the terms ‘Generation X’ and ‘McJob’.  Such is the stigma attached to loneliness that even people who are trying to tackle the issue often feel they dare not even mention the ‘L-word’ to the people they’re trying to help.

Nobody agrees what this filthy old swear word even means. I’ve come across 10 separate definitions in the numerous research reports I’ve eaten over the last few days. Mish-mashed together they seem to say: loneliness describes the negative feelings felt due to the lack of a close emotional attachment with a partner or friend and/or the absence of a broad and engaging social group of friends, neighbours and colleagues. And it’s not to be confused with social isolation which refers to separation from social or familial contact, and community involvement. The happy hermit who chooses solitude would not be considered lonely though social isolation is the key risk for loneliness.

Are you lonesome tonight?

What’s so strange about the taboo of loneliness is it’s such a common 21st century ill that cuts across all age groups. Evolution suggests we’re designed to live together in close communities and sociology that we thrive in close co-operation with each other yet in the modern world we often chose to live and work in a way that isolates us from each other. We’re all obsessed with the ‘cult of busyness’ often to the neglect of our family and social ties. Work can help us feel connected but if our working hours are too long social ties can suffer as we slump on the sofa to recover.

Lots of factors are also conspiring to erode our sense of community: it could be the closure of the local post office or the village pub or the decline of the working men’s clubs; all are social places that bring different generations together. The great urbanisation trend that began decades ago means that friends, family and neighbours often move far away or migrate, eroding our social connections.

The rise of home entertainment and the internet reduces socialising and face to face contact outside the home. So technology can certainly help to keep us connected, but it’s face to face contact which stimulates the production of that lovely hormone oxytocin which makes us more sympathetic, supportive and open with our feelings: all of which helps us feel connected and guards against loneliness – you won’t get any oxytocin dished up with your ‘Likes’ and hashtags.  So there you have it: in the Western world we may have got richer over the last few decades but we’re definitely no happier because we’ve become more isolated and hence lonelier.

The loneliness landmines of ageing

Against that backdrop, is it any wonder that loneliness is a growing and serious problem across all age groups? But when you consider the long list of hazardous transitions that need to be negotiated in later life it’s obvious why loneliness is a bigger problem for older people: retirement and the loss of identity, busyness and social value; loss of family members, friends and neighbours through bereavement or them moving away; loss of physical health and/or mental health and sensory impairment; becoming an informal carer or the admission of a loved one into care; developing your own care needs and/or moving into care and the loss of your familiar home.

All in older age is a time when you can spend increased time alone: 3.8m people or 36% of those over 65 in the UK live alone. And let’s not forget people who are childless, never married or the growing number of older divorcees. But don’t make assumptions about people with family and their risks of loneliness: having children but not being close to them or even living with family has seen higher reported levels of loneliness.

All these loneliness landmines lead to a loss of social and emotional connection yet older age is a time when there are fewer remedies available to cope with them: lower income, lower mobility and fewer social opportunities are added to a climate of ageism which segregates older people. Societal ills such as crime and antisocial behaviour and a lack of amenities such as public toilets, even pavements and good transport links can also keep older people indoors and alienated.

Frankly, if you’re ‘old’ and not feeling lonely then congratulations to you! But more to the point there are so many very common risk factors that contribute to loneliness as we grow older that we should be warning people about it in the same way we do about cancer, diabetes, heart disease, strokes and dementia, given the debilitating effect of loneliness on health and wellbeing. Even the stigma of mental ill health is starting to break down as awareness campaigns gain traction. So what is it with this big taboo about loneliness anyway?

The Loneliness Taboo

Social neuroscience suggests that if our expectations around relationships aren’t being met our body feels physically threatened. If loneliness persists we start to lose the ability to regulate the emotions that we associate with loneliness: in time this alters the ‘social cognition’ which enables us to interpret our interactions with others. This distorts the way we perceive ourselves in relation to others and may lead us to withdraw from engaging in social support leading to greater isolation. Throughout evolution social bonds have been essential to our survival as to outsmart predators we needed to evolve for increased co-operation: as social animals our ancestors got better and better at interpreting signals from others so their genes could survive. The initial pangs of loneliness then remind us to seek out the company of others to fulfil this basic need and prevent chronic loneliness.

Could this bit of science explain the taboo of loneliness and why people may seek to conceal or deny it? If you lose your ability to form social bonds you’re now useless to the survival of the species so you’re a loser to be shunned? Other suggestions are that the lonely person offends a society that prides itself on self-reliance. Could the science explain why some research suggests that loneliness is contagious and occurs in social clusters: lonely people spread their feelings of loneliness through social networks and the spread of loneliness is stronger than the spread of perceived social connection. Blimey if loneliness is a contagious disease no wonder there’s a taboo and people conceal that they’re infected!

When did compassion go out the window?

If we’re getting lonelier as a society and loneliness is contagious we’d better start doing something about it for all of our sakes. So let’s ramp up the compassion and all get involved in pulling people from the lonely margins into the centre. Let’s start issuing loud warnings about the risks of loneliness. Let’s start breaking down the taboo by talking about it. Professionals in the ageing space need to be shouting from the rooftops about these issues, to break the taboo of loneliness, rather than walking on eggshells around it. This is why we’re asking the following awkward question in our June 2015 #TeapotTravels competition:

Are professionals in the ageing space reinforcing the taboo of loneliness?

A recent poll of UK GPs found that 36% of doctors didn’t think loneliness made a significant contribution to early death and only 28% thought that Clinical Commissioning Groups should be responsible for commissioning services to alleviate or prevent loneliness. We need to get GPs more on side with this issue. Let’s start trampling on those eggshells: the Dutch held a campaign 5 years ago to raise awareness about the risks and taboos of loneliness and the ways to overcome the pitfalls. Time for one in the UK I’d say. So here’s a start: hands up if you’ve ever felt lonely! (Gosh typing with one hand really is quite inefficient!). Of course I flipping well have, and I’m not to blame or a saddo to be ignored because of it thank you.

Anyone else up to raising their hand?

Do we need a hashtag? How about: #feelinglonelyiscompletelynormal.  OK, that’s a bit long – alternatives any one?

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5 reasons you should talk to the teapot

If you’re reading this it’s probably because you’ve seen photos of some lovely people holding the BuddyHub teapot, and are wondering what it’s all about: did someone put something in our tea or have we just gone potty?

In fact we’ve adopted the teapot as an emblem for our start-up journey. As a brand new social enterprise, BuddyHub is on an exciting journey: from week to week we are seeking funds, meeting amazing new people, examining ideas, piloting our own project and – like all good lean startups – testing and pivoting and testing again.

We know we have a lot to learn and we are doing everything we can to find out how our solution can transform loneliness and isolation into happiness and laughter.

#TeapotTravels
So we are taking the teapot with us wherever we go – hence the hashtag #TeapotTravels, inviting people to have fun and share their thoughts about ageing, social isolation and loneliness.

The people we’ve met so far have been inspirational! To reach even more people, we are also running a competition in June 2015 to win a fantastic Angel Afternoon Tea at the ooh-la-la Hilton Hotel in Islington.

Tea time
So if you’re interested in sharing your thoughts on the issues we’ve raised, here are 5 good reasons why we’d love you to ‘talk to the teapot’:

1) It’s a giggle
Tackling loneliness and social isolation is a serious matter, but BuddyHub likes to put happiness and laughter front and centre. Writing messages on a teapot usually brings a smile – which also happens to be one of the best ways to make a new friend.

2) It’s sociable
Unlike traditional one-to-one befriending, BuddyHub is about creating a new social circle of people with similar interests and being part of a ‘Friendship Wheel’. Forget that teabag-for-one, let’s get sociable and fill the whole pot. Biscuit anyone?

3) It’s about reaching out
Have you ever taken a teapot to a business meeting and then asked someone to write a message on it? Let’s say it breaks the ice. It also helps people relax and feel like they’re getting to know each other. Just like BuddyHub.

4) It’s for free speech
There’s nothing like a chat and a cup of tea to come up with new ideas and open them up to a friend. BuddyHub is all about innovation and learning from what’s working and what isn’t. Share your thoughts on the teapot and see how people react. We call it a brainstorm in a teacup.

5) It’s a little reminder
Did we mention you could win that Angel Afternoon Tea? There’s a delicious prize for the winner (and two colleagues) and all you have to do is take part in our thought-provoking poll questions which will be posted on this blog in May and June 2015.

We’d love to know what you think. Please share your thoughts in the comments box – or you could of course write them on a teapot and send us a picture.

Posted in #TeapotTravels, About BuddyHub, ageing society, friendship, social media campaign, start up journey | 1 Comment

Howay 5-0! (as the Geordies would say)

Apparently you go to bed at the age of 49 years and 364 days as your good old self. When you wake up on your 50th birthday everything has mysteriously changed overnight. The great divide to being older is apparently 50. Of course put like that you wouldn’t believe a word of it, yet in our ageist society we really do like lumping people together by that one incidental attribute amongst the many that make up an individual – your chronological age. At my recent trip to The Age of No Retirement event in Manchester we were focusing on working together to reshape British society along ageless intergenerational lines. Hoorah – I’m all for relegating age down the ranks of importance which is a key tenet of BuddyHub.

Once you’ve gone ‘ageless’ you’re not too sure what to make of movements that seem to segregate by age. So, why do we have Mumsnet and Gransnet instead of a cross-generational site? As the site editor Gigi Eligoloff explained, Gransnet is in fact for anyone over 50 and you don’t have to be female or a grandparent. Initially corporates only wanted to engage with Gransnet around the toxicity of ageing which completely disconnected with the issues that their users were raising. The average user of Gransnet is overall focused on different issues to the average user of Mumsnet so the divide by age does make sense and it’s giving a voice to over 50s which helps to break down stereotypes of what you’re supposed to be like at 50+. Bravo Gransnet.

I was similarly uncertain about what Stefano Hatfield of High50, an online community for the over 50s, would have to tell us given my agelessness stance. We heard how people at 50 or 60 feel no different than at 30. Moreover, people over 50 control more than 80% of disposable income in the UK, yet marketers pretty much ignore them in favour of relatively impoverished 18-34 year olds. More than 1m 50+ people are looking for a new partner, sex has never been better and travel is the #1 aspiration. And as we just found out, many more older people vote and therefore decide elections. Yet the advertising industry is completely out of date in supposing that you have to attract consumers young and then hold on to them and you must market to peoples younger selves.

Moreover its time the whole advertising industry differentiated between the 48-65ish cohort and those who are into retirement, especially image libraries which can represent 50 year olds with pictures of over 70s. Stefano’s comments again made me realise that agelessness means that people of all ages need to be properly represented. High50 are bringing a voice to a cohort that has been ignored and that can only be a positive thing – we heard that the delightful Mariella Frostrup lost half her work because she had a birthday – a 50th one. C’mon that’s entirely bonkers so good on you High50.

When I heard we were to hear from Paula Reed and Sojin Lee who are developing a clothing brand for the over 50s woman I have to say the hackles adopted the raised position. Surely we were about to hear about what constitutes age appropriate clothing for older women. These two ladies have a fabulous pedigree in fashion with Paula Reed being ex Grazia and ex Creative Director at Harvey Nichols and Sojin Lee being the former chief buyer at Net a Porter.

The hackles started to relax as Paula Reed described how the current over 50 generation is totally different to what’s gone before:  50+ women have incredible creative energy and life achievements and there is solid evidence of a crying need to address these women. They are working to create that space for the hopes, dreams and aspirations of this incredible demographic. So these ladies are working to make an invisible generation visible and to banish the ageism attached to this age cohort. That sounds like agelessness to me. So its hackles totally down and go sisters!!! My only slight remaining beef was that Paula Reed claimed her strapless cocktail dress wearing days are over – in my view, Ms Reed would look totally fabulous in such garb so do it for 50+ women Paula!

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Need a solution to a difficult problem? – lock some smart people in a room until they find it

This week I attended ‘The Age of No Retirement’ 3-day event in Manchester.  Time is always short when you’re working on a start-up so taking 3 days out is a big commitment but boy was it worth it. This growing and exciting movement is all about breaking down age barriers and looking at the tough questions that we face as a society that’s living longer. These challenges were broken down into 4 themes: ‘Inter-generational’, ‘Design for Change’, ‘One- Life’ and ‘Work & Employability.

The first couple of days were about solving these questions in a radical and innovative way. In practice that meant randomly dividing those present with a diverse range of backgrounds, skills, ages and experience into groups, locking them in a room and not letting them out until they had come up with an implementable initiative to take forward to address the issue at hand. Beforehand, Mat Hunter from The Design Council suggested that we should start by making simple things that over time would add up to something bigger and to switch our minds off from regulation and sacred cows to allow our imagination to flow. The 24 Co-Design Labs were billed as collaborative and innovative design-led thinking and I’m pleased to report that’s just what they were.

By the end of the two days the brain cogs had been whirring so much this entrepreneur was both rather knackered yet energised and inspired by the process and the progress made.  Given the leadership of Jonathan Collie and Georgina Lee, together with the skilled Facilitators they gathered together, this is a movement that’s about action not talking and after a few weeks of digesting the initiatives designed over the two days things will start to move forward.

What we all needed to recharge the batteries was to listen to some inspiring stories and that’s just what the conference delivered on day 3. We had a whole array of speakers from the corporate world, from charitable foundations, small businesses and social enterprises who told us about real world examples of change or practice around the key themes.  In fact there was so much interesting food for thought that I will be writing about all the good stuff in future post’s.

Of all the inspiring stories and inspirational speakers of the day it was Pauline Wiltshire who really made a lasting impression on me for two reasons. Pauline is a now retired former employee at Barclays who is a driving force for digital inclusion for older people. A while back she arranged a couple of training sessions at the Apple store for older people: the younger employee who ran them was up for making it a regular event but this was blocked by his boss (boo hiss Apple). Undeterred she turned to Barclays and this led to a ‘tea, cakes and how to do technology’ session at Barclays Canary Wharf HQ. These sessions have now spread across the UK and are led by Barclays’ in-branch ‘Digital Eagles’ for anyone who wants to improve their digital literacy.

But there’s a second reason why Pauline impressed: as a single women living on her own she was happy to admit to being lonely sometimes. One of the issues we want to tackle at BuddyHub is to try and break the stigma of loneliness. There is a great deal of awareness campaigning around breaking down the stigma of mental ill health and the same needs to happen around loneliness. It’s an incredibly common experience so thanks Pauline for just being matter-of-fact about it because that’s what we’re aiming for too.

Posted in #TeapotTravels, About BuddyHub, ageing society, events, innovation and disruption, social care, start up journey | Leave a comment