Karen is our Project Development Manager for programme Getting Together Matters, and she shared some of her experiences from the project helping to tackle loneliness across the UK.

Getting Together Matters is a project that provides free, fun online events for older people across the UK. From creative writing to seated exercise and weekly quizzes, the aim is to bring older people from across the UK together online, to have fun and take part in a range of free events and activities. We started during the pandemic, and are still going strong!

The aim of Getting Together Matters is really what it says on the tin – it’s getting people together, increasing engagement and decreasing isolation. The sessions are run by volunteers, who use their experience, skills and energy to run them for anyone who wants to join. For example, we had an established actor and poetry enthusiast run Shakespeare and poetry sessions. Illustration of microphone and cards

In fact, enthusiasm is what gets volunteers through the door! From ‘Armchair travels’ where the volunteer shares videos of parts of the world on screen whilst faciliating discussion with attendees, to our quiz where you get to test your knowledge, having a laugh when you get it wrong! The volunteers bring energy and dedication to their projects, which helps us all connect.

The pandemic has highlighted many barriers to engagement, but consider also:
• Mobility issues
• Bereavement and losing close friends and family
• Having no access to groups in rural communities
And unfortunately many, many more that contribute to feelings of isolation.

It can be easier when you’re working. Your social circles are busy, and in everyday life you have constant interactions. From buying a train ticket to ordering a coffee, these small points of contact can help you feel that you are connected with society. When other barriers come into play, it suddenly becomes pretty challenging to meet anyone and your confidence can take a hit. Some people have told me they don’t speak to people weeks at a time, with Christmas being an especially difficult time. Someone once said that the only person they spoke to in the last week was the person checking their items at the supermarket till.

Organisations and individuals providing services sometimes provide the only opportunities for individuals to chat and form friendships. So, where will people meet? If social clubs are not available or difficult to access, it can narrow down opportunities to create new friends. Imagine how that might feel, with few people to laugh with – discuss what bird they’ve seen that morning in the garden, or share stories and shared experiences? Simple connection makes all the difference.Pull-out quote from text

Getting Together Matters provides a platform to move safely, easily, into conversation and provides that much needed connection through a range of chat groups, activities online and in the post.

It can be a bit strange to ‘arrive’ on a Zoom or Teams call. Even though we’ve been doing it for over two years, many people will continue to struggle with mute/camera/chat/reaction buttons! But however unusual it is, once you get past the initial strangeness, that genuine interaction with others can be a game changer. Of course, this has its limitations and not all of our participants have wanted or have been able to join online. We have created and trialled other ways of connecting through creative writing in the post, to reading scripts and being in ‘the cast’ over the phone in a group call.

I asked one of our participants to describe what it felt during lockdown and what being connected means to them.

‘’During the lockdown I felt isolated, afraid, scared and alone. Trapped, felt like prison without bars. Felt like the end of the world; helpless, tearful & cut off. Nervous, angry and vulnerable, not in control. Depression. Bad anxiety and didn’t want to go out. Lost and not being able to do anything. Lost interest in everything.

Now since Getting Together Matters, felt like receiving the help has made me feel really good, talking to people lifted my spirits, knowing someone was out there. Looking forward to new things helped me understand what I was about & learning to like myself. Learning to trust again, putting goals into place, making new friends, being No.1 for the first time in my life and learning on the tablet GTM kindly donated to me. I am loving my Telephone Pal, Pen Pal, and receiving activities in the post.”

P, aged 61.

Screenshot of 8 people smiling on a screen
Getting Together Matters Jubilee Celebration

Through the lockdown, P also had our IT volunteer support her to use a tablet, and can now join us on our groups online like singing and armchair travels. I know P received support from other organisations like Age Concern and Mind concurrently with our project. It’s fantastic that we can all work together to support people like J.

Getting Together Matters fits very well into a blend of varied support in the community, not a complete solution but another way of connecting. People may do a lunch club in the week, their family visits on a Saturday and join an online group in the interim or receive a call from a telephone Pal. These activities play the vital part – the validation that you do matter, someon does care, that we are all in this together. Because we are.

I am most proud of people who come to us and openly say how they feel; the courage it takes to show your vulnerability is humbling. I am grateful for those people able to share those feelings because in doing so it allows others to understand, they are not alone.

If you or someone you know would like to join in with regular, friendly activities online, please get in touch.