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COVEY news

March 2017

Former COVEY Befriender Monica Lennon MSP celebrates our work in a Parliamentry discussion on the Triggers for Loneliness

Highlighting the important work of both LEAP's Hands On Project and Covey Befriending in her speech, Monica Lennon said:

"Volunteers who aim to reduce social isolation through befriending are the backbone of the work that is ongoing in communities right across Scotland to the tackle the growing problem of loneliness.

"We should be celebrating that work at every opportunity, and I'm glad that the member's debate on loneliness provided the opportunity for me to highlight to Parliament the important work that volunteers across Hamilton are engaging in on a daily basis."

Monica's speech is below:

I'd like to begin my contribution this evening by thanking Rhoda Grant for bringing this issue to Parliament for debate, as well as the British Red Cross, the Scottish Co-op Party, Samaritans Scotland and Age Scotland for their helpful briefings on this issue.

Loneliness and social isolation can be a heavy burden for those experiencing it, and for so many it can feel like practically an impossible barrier to overcome.

As has already been well pointed out by member's across this chamber, loneliness is a problem which is in the best interests of everyone to make sure that we tackle.

The research published by the British Red Cross and the Co-op shows that 86% of people in Scotland agree loneliness is a serious problem.

Because not only is there the devastating impact which loneliness can have on someone at an individual level, the research also shows that it could have as negative an impact on our nation's health as smoking, and carry as strong a risk as obesity.

We all know the serious challenges facing our NHS and public services over the next couple of decades due to the increasing pressures of an ageing population, and the impact of loneliness in old age threatens to be a looming public health crisis that must be addressed.

As Mike Adamson, the Chief Executive of the British Red Cross states in the 'Trapped in a Bubble' report "'It is quite clear that loneliness and social isolation is a crisis we cannot ignore, causing untold misery and, ultimately, unnecessary pressure on hard-pressed statutory services.'

So I welcome the growing attention and interest in dealing with this problem, particularly the commitment from the Scottish Government to establish a National Social Isolation Strategy.

I also welcome calls from organisations such as Samaritans Scotland who have called on the strategy to be cross-departmental and inclusive of external organisations and agencies.

Because it's clear that there can be no 'one size fits all' approach to tackling loneliness.

There are of course actions we can take as individuals, doing what we can through small steps to reduce loneliness in our day-to-day lives.

But to tackle loneliness and isolation effectively, support must also be given to organisational level activity which delivers targeted support to those who need it - particularly older people.

I'm fortunate enough to have one such organisation in the area I represent, which provides a fantastic befriending service to older people in South Lanarkshire, where I'm also a sitting councillor in Hamilton.

The Lightburn Elderly Association Project (or LEAP, as it's known) Hands On Project, is a service which relies on the dedication of its volunteers, who provide befriending for older people experiencing social isolation across the South Lanarkshire area and make a positive difference to the lives of many older people in our communities by reducing social isolation, increasing confidence, friendships and overall mental wellbeing.

Small gestures and the targeted intervention of a volunteer can have a transformative effect. One older person who has benefited from the service, talking about her experience, said:

"My volunteer encourages me to get out the house for a wee walk and I am trying to go a bit further every week. I really look forward to her visits and feel less isolated... and this has made such a difference to my life."

Another said:

"Coming to the men's group breaks up my day and alleviates my depression. I enjoy the great company and support of the volunteer and other men and sharing stories. I don't know what I would do without it."

Powerful words.

The focus on isolation among older people is of course important in considering how we tackle loneliness, because it is often with age and a slowing down of mobility and ill health which is a major factor in causing loneliness.

And today's debate is also timely, as this week the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness turns the spotlight onto the particular focus of loneliness experienced by older people.

But of course not all loneliness or social isolation is experienced due to age, which is something the commission also acknowledges.

We know that loneliness and isolation can affect anyone throughout life, especially during significant transitional experiences.

COVEY befriending is another organisation, based in Hamilton, which serves my constituents in the Central Scotland region.

I recently met with COVEY to discuss the excellent befriending and support work they do with young people and their families, which is also about re-connecting people who may be experience social isolation due to difficult family circumstances.

One person who benefited from COVEY's pathways project, when talking about their experience, said:

"I can't believe I am now going out again, I never thought I would want to go and do things, but the support has built up my confidence and I now want to get my life back"

I also used to be a volunteer befriender with Covey when I was a student at University, so I appreciate just how rewarding the experience can be.

The volunteers engaged in befriending and who aim to reduce social isolation are the backbone of the work that is ongoing in communities right across Scotland to the tackle this growing problem.

We should be celebrating that work at every opportunity, and I'm grateful that this evening's debate and the forthcoming national action aimed at tackling loneliness is the opportunity for us to drive forward change that will support that work.

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