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Why we made it our Christmas mission to combat loneliness this year; and the impact it made

In August it's common for many organisations to think about what their focus will be over the Christmas and New Year period. As a company that centres ourselves around support we wanted to invest in a campaign that would make a significant positive impact on those around us.

Not just at work but also in our personal lives, we know that many people can find Christmas a very isolating or overwhelming time of year and many factors can play a part in this. Grief can be one of these factors as can trauma but these factors also range to everything from the festive season triggering feelings of grief and anxiety to it being an overwhelming time for those with sensory processing difficulties that can leave people (such as those who are autistic) feeling lots of discomfort due to the additional noise, unpredictability, disruption in routines and lights from parties and events that are celebrated in the run up to Christmas and New Year. For elderly people the loss of loved ones whether past or recent can cause many to spend their Christmas alone or, as in many situations; spending Christmas with family members to then go back home after Christmas and facing a very quiet and isolating January. These factors can trigger or heighten feelings of loneliness and resurfacing grief.

We wanted to do something proactive this year so we did a little bit of research and we found that a 2018 Age UK study estimated that:

"...if we don’t tackle loneliness, by 2026 there will be 2 million people over 50 in England who will often feel lonely. This will have a dramatic impact on their well-being and the quality of their lives. Our findings also show that the risk of being often lonely is dramatically higher among those people who are widowed or who do not have someone to open up to.

Loneliness occurs when people’s ability to have meaningful conversations and interactions is inhibited, and helping people cope with and overcome these feelings can require more than social activities. It can require personalised support and neighbourhoods which encourage and facilitate people to participate in their communities."

We were shocked but unfortunately not surprised at this statistic however, we were equally reassured to know that we could make an active difference if we could find ways to encourage and improve people's ability to have meaningful conversations and interactions. We decided that this would become the focus of our winter campaign. We know that as a growing company we can make an impact and work to be part of a solution.

Empathy sits at the heart of our values and we thought reaching out to people would be the most accessible way that we could make a difference. We wanted a welcoming space where we could do this that was quiet, accessible and really welcoming so we approached Digby's Café to ask Viv and her team about ways they felt we could work with them to reach as many people as possible. Viv advised us that they often see customers coming to the café on their own and how much they would love to spend more time to talk to them but that unfortunately as the café gets so busy, often they can only really talk with them at the counter while they make their purchase. That's when we came up with the idea of hosting a weekly 'Care Chair'. Digby's kindly offered us a space each week so that we could be present to offer company and conversation to anyone that wanted it between November to January.

We know that often people who are feeling lonely, or who have good connections but would benefit from company when they come into public spaces on their own will often not approach someone to ask for company, which can be the case for lots of reasons. So we felt by being readily available in the café and making a point to say a polite hello and invite people to sit with us, taking that first step, would be the most accessible way that we could reach people to encourage meaningful connections and conversations to help combat feelings loneliness whilst improving and expanding on social connections. We ran the scheme as an 'ask for' scheme to ensure there was a subtle way of accessing the service for those who wanted to be included but didn't want to draw attention to the fact they wanted to access the service either.

In addition to running the Care Chair we also took part in various events over Christmas and New Year that linked in to the core purpose of our campaign so that we could make our impact as far reaching as possible and to try and connect the community so they could be actively involved in the positive impact we set out to achieve. Our first event was the Christmas Tree event at St Wulfram's Church. Here, we invited members of the community to write a message for an elderly person for Christmas. We wanted to decorate our tree with well wishes that we could distribute to others. We charged each tag at 30p and used the event as an opportunity to fundraise for a charity that Lauren Mann, the company Director is a UK representative and speaker for; the Nyumbani Kwanza Foundation in Tanzania, Morogoro.

The NK Foundation help and support parents and children in Tanzania to access the community resources they need in order to access education, healthcare and to improve their day to day quality of life. The donations that were raised helped to purchase a Christmas lunch for children from poorer family backgrounds, rice, clothes and school equipment such as bags, books and stationary. After the event we counted the well-wishing tags and were so incredibly thrilled to have received 84 tags in total equating to a donation of £25.20 which is a significant TSh80,689.86 in Tanzanian shillings.

Meanwhile, our weekly Care Chair was showing to have a fantastic turnout each week and we were seeing more and more what a friendly and welcoming community Digby's had built in the Guildhall. It was a privilege to be a part of that journey and to build on it with them working in the very heart of our town of Grantham. We talked to customers about everything from the impact of grief, to psychology and even music. We also talked about people's experiences and achievements too.

One of the people we met through the scheme called Peter, we were thrilled to find out had published a book a few years ago. We felt this was an incredible achievement, so when we were kindly provided with a copy we couldn't wait to read it! The book is available on amazon and is called 'The Magic Haystack' which can be purchased here. We read the book ourselves and it is a brilliant resource to read as an adult, or as a child with an adult to supervise and lead discussions about the imagination and how this skill can be applied every day. It focuses on the concept of imagination and how it works. The book encourages practising this skill by seeing what animals you can see in normal every day objects. The book is a particularly fantastic read if you have ever read and remember the 'Magic Eye' books and were fond of those while growing up. It has been amazing to talk with Peter and other members of the community, hearing their stories, skills and interests throughout the campaign.

During the weekly Care Chair sessions we have focused on providing an impartial and welcoming space that doesn't pressure people to talk about difficult topics but equally doesn't discourage those who choose and wish to talk about them either. We have endeavoured to be an ear to listen, a smile to share. There have been conversations on receiving a significant or serious health diagnosis where we have invited the participant to talk honestly about how it has made them feel and we have shared information on organisations they can access for support such as We've also offered to be a distraction from bad news and focus conversations on good memories, and things they enjoy from pets to recipes.

The Care Chair has worked hard to become a judgement-free space that allows you to be you in your most authentic self, as you are and as you feel. To laugh and be distracted or to be allowed to feel disheartened in the company of someone so you aren't facing it alone.

As the concluding event to our loneliness campaign, Digby's kindly teamed up with us to host an 'Afternoon Tea To Combat Loneliness'. The purpose of our afternoon tea was to encourage a social activity with those who wouldn't normally attend to help encourage them to form and build meaningful and lasting friendships. This was so that after the campaign ends, everyone has as much support as we can provide to ensure the impact is long term so that people have been supported to gain the confidence to seek and maintain new connections that continue on into the year and hopefully for many to come. We were so excited to see the positive feedback that we have received throughout our campaign from those who have seen the work we've been doing and shared their thoughts, to those who have kindly opened up about the impact it has had on them personally.

We used the well wish tags from the event at St Wulfram's church in place of Christmas crackers, and attached them to hand made origami hearts as a little keepsake for all of the guests to take home with them. Digby's also went above and beyond making extra food to allow for others to join in with the event without the pressure of cost to help us reach people as widely as possible. After the event finished no food was wasted either. As a waste-conscious café Digby's allowed us to take surplus food away and distribute it among clients, family and members of the community as we went past anyone in wish of a little treat.

In fact, the support has been so positive that it has allowed us to expand on our delivery of the campaign. We were able to provide 'Secret Santa' gifts through the Care Chair sessions. Ranging from a little 'Pick me up' treat for a stranger as a small act of random kindness to Christmas gifts for those we've seen regularly and come to know well through our weekly visits. We provided gifts to many, whether they had attended sessions or not- it was lovely to be able to spread a little extra Christmas cheer.

Some of the feedback we've had has been uplifting to receive. One guest at the afternoon tea told us:

"I was really worried about coming today because I didn't know anybody but you've all been so welcoming. You've made me feel like part of a big family"

We also had a guest whose carer advised us that they hadn't been to a social event for what they estimated to be 2 years and they weren't sure how well the guest would get on at the event. They were nervous that this person would find it a bit 'too much' but surprisingly she became the star of the show! From sharing jokes with us, to proudly wearing the tinsel and keeping the little ones entertained. By the end of the event she had come out of her shell completely and left with such a huge smile. It was lovely to see what a fantastic time she had, and that she felt comfortable to be herself around us and the other guests.

This has been one of the most significant campaigns we've conducted as a company and it has been hugely heart warming to have made an impact whether large or small. It has also been a learning curve too. We've learned sometimes taking the first step to say hello is the best way to invite a conversation. We've also learned the importance that sometimes being alone doesn't equate to loneliness and, equally importantly that being surrounded by company doesn't mean there is a lack of loneliness. Above all else we learned that we have a close and caring community within Grantham full of thoughtful, knowledgeable, kind and caring individuals with a diverse range of backgrounds and interests. Talking and learning about each other is such a significant tool to our own understanding of the world and of ourselves and therefore the impact we have had during this campaign has had an equally significant impact on ourselves too.

Would you like to be involved in a campaign scheme with us next year? Get in touch at to express your interest and ideas. Let's be a positive impact for as many people as possible.

That's what friends are for.

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