The story of Bournemouth resident, Anne Leitrim, has really struck a chord with me this past week. The discovery comes merely one day after Contact the Elderly declared a state of emergency in response to the numbers of lonely older people in the UK.
The realization that no one had bothered to check on this old lady for six years was a grim reminder of just how isolated older people have become within their communities. It raises the question how we as a society should reconsider our values, priorities and sense of responsibility towards those off-the-radar of care and concern in our own areas.
This story further reinforces the need to support community-driven organizations such as Contact the Elderly, who offer a face-to-face solution to the problem of loneliness is based on the simple concept - providing vital, regular personal links to those who are alone, so that someone who cares is regularly checking up on a regular basis on our older guests' well-being.
In support of our Emergency Appeal we announced the results of a survey we commissioned to find out more about how our 560 monthly tea parties affect our guests. I am pleased to say the results were overwhelmingly positive in terms of improved overall well-being.
The survey results underline the importance of what we do, with one in five rarely seeing family or friends, a staggering 78 per cent saying they feel less lonely as a result of our monthly tea parties and 96 percent saying they give them something to look forward to. The results only further reinforced the great need for increased face-to-face interaction in our guests' lives, and the benefit this has. Perhaps, if we didn't do what we do every month all over the country - they too could pass away unnoticed.
It all comes down to the power of personal contact - the theme of our national emergency Power of Contact appeal in the run up to our Golden Jubilee next year. This appeal focuses on increasing our resources in order to support our waiting list of 1200 people, and many more thousands of neglected elderly off the radar whose lives can be transformed by our work.
We all need to do much more to ensure that something positive comes out of this appalling tragedy. At the very least Anne's story should encourage the Government to do much more than express concern about the "national disgrace of one million neglected elderly", by providing positive help and financial support to cost-effective agencies such as Contact the Elderly, who offer a tried and tested and cost-effective solution at the grassroots.
Above all, I hope it will encourage debate on the issue of loneliness, motivating the public to reach out in their communities - greet elderly neighbours when they walk past, stop and say 'hello' at the letter-box; and perhaps inspire some new volunteers to join or set up a local Contact the Elderly group.
At Contact the Elderly we are well aware that the number of isolated older people in the UK continues to grow at an incredibly fast rate. Let us hope that urgent action, instead of just talk from Government (national and local), and support from the public and corporate sector, ensures that in another six years' time a story like this just simply will not surface.
Please donate generously to our Power of Contact Appeal to encourage more volunteers to drive away loneliness in old age, or host life-enhancing events for those in need of friendship and concern. Text POWR15 £5 to 70070
Trevor Lyttleton MBE Founder and Chairman of Contact the Elderly