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02 October 2015

New resource helps churches connect with older people

New resource helps churches connect with older people

A new resource for churches has been launched to help them reach and support older people.

The Build-A-Link Challenge, an initiative of national befriending network and Alliance member, Link Visiting, is a downloadable guide that encourages churches to increase their awareness of levels of loneliness in the local area, and gives them the tools to develop a picture of local partnerships and provision.

In September 2014, the Church Urban Fund sent an online survey to over 5,000 senior members of staff in a parish or group of parishes.

Respondents were asked to identify social issues that were relevant to their parish and rate them in order of priority – 65 per cent of respondents said that isolation/loneliness was a significant problem or major problem in the neighbourhood of their church, and the issue was the most prevalent reported by clergy in this survey.

“There are thousands like me but you feel your own sadness so much,” says 86-year-old Johanna, who talks openly about what it feels like to be lonely. Johanna has recently become part of a church-run community centre in Kidderminster, where she takes part in a fitness class and a singing group.

Since it started the Mega Movers fitness class four years ago, the centre has looked for ways to accelerate the process of integrating local elderly people into the life of the centre and the church that meets there on a Sunday.

One way it has achieved this is by setting up a Link Visiting project through which older people living locally can benefit from a regular home visit from a volunteer and social activities that take place in the community centre.

Johanna clearly identifies why she lost touch with her friends and neighbours after the death of her husband. “I lost my husband 15 months ago, and I didn’t want to go anywhere because I would become tearful. Friends that I had have all died off. It’s difficult to make new friends because it’s hard to find them. We’re all in the same boat.”

Many elderly people don’t have transport and may struggle with decreasing physical mobility, so, as Johanna observes, there’s a gap between her and the simple, life-giving friendships that make such a difference.

“I believe that churches should be leading the way as intergenerational meeting places,” says Jeremy Sharpe, director of the national project at Link Visiting. “They are a vital link in the process of moving people from isolation to integration.”

Link Visiting wants to give churches the tools to build links with lonely older people to combat growing levels of isolation in this country.

The Build-A-Link Challenge aims to prompt churches to talk about the issue and increase their awareness about how they could work with other local partners.

The Build-a-Link challenge is available here http://linkvisiting.org/challenge/ You can find out how other churches started a befriending project by reading some of the church case studies on the Link Visiting website http://linkvisiting.org/