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?
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.
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