Team North Yorkshire work to reduce loneliness and isolation

In this month’s Team North Yorkshire article, community reporter Louise Perrin talks to members of an exciting new project aimed at reducing isolation and loneliness during lockdown.

Promoted by North Yorkshire County Council
Thursday, 1st July 2021, 4:40 pm
Sophie Westwood, 17, is part of the phone call support group with Pat McArthur, 83, a former school teacher.
Sophie Westwood, 17, is part of the phone call support group with Pat McArthur, 83, a former school teacher.

A multi-generational project has been developed in Bilton to help alleviate isolation during lockdown.

The Youth Phonecall Support Team, set up by youth worker Emma James, is based at St Johns and St Lukes churches in Bilton. The project initially aimed to connect members of the sixth form youth group with older members of the congregation, but has rapidly gone from strength to strength.

Ms James said: “We started during the third lockdown in January. We asked young people if they would be willing to be part of it and they agreed.

“We tried to identify anyone who was on their own or struggling, got their permission and then passed details to the young person to call them. Then we gave the young people guidelines and some conversation starters and off they went.

“Most phone once a week to chat and I know one boy who was paired with a 91 year old man has been meeting on the doorstep.

“It started as a benefit to the elderly person, but I think it’s actually become a two way thing. It’s encouraging young people to see themselves as part of the church community.”

Emma recounted how one parent had seen a real difference in her daughter. She said: “She never had anything to talk about at meal times, however, since getting involved in the befriending scheme, she’d call her buddy and when she came back, she’d tell the family all about it!”

Pat and Sophie both said the scheme had been a really positive experience.

Talking to those involved in the scheme it’s clear how much both young and old enjoy taking part.

Hannah Cole, 17, is currently studying for A-Levels in Maths, Biology and Ancient History. She is paired with Frieda who is 93 years old and originally from Germany.

Hannah said: “I got a message from Emma saying she was thinking of setting this up and I messaged back to say I’d like to be involved.

“Frieda is a lovely woman. I ring at 4pm on a Tuesday and we have a chat about the week.

Pat said she was excited to get involved

“She tells me stories about growing up and sometimes I go and stand on the doorstep and we have a talk there.

“It’s interesting. We hear stories about what it was like in the past, but not a person's actual story. It’s nice to get that perspective.”

Hannah completes her studies next year and is currently planning to study archaeology at university.

She hopes to maintain contact with Frieda when she goes, she said: “I think I will stay in touch, she’s an interesting lady and we have some good laughs.

Sophie Westwood, also 17, is another member of the phone call support group. She is partnered with Pat McArthur, 83, a former school teacher.

Sophie, who is working at Elite Meats in Starbeck to save money for university, said the two hit it off right from the first call: “Pat is so funny and very talkative. It works well.

“She’s interested in my life and who I am and she always has a story.

“She’s had such an interesting life and travelled so much, it’s nice to learn all about her.

Sophie is heading to the University of Edinburgh to read English and History in the autumn, but she said she feels sure the pair will stay in touch.

“I like getting calls from her. I get so much out of it. It’s nice to have someone to reach out to.

“It has been a really positive experience.

“I had covid at the start of May and Pat would phone to ask if I was okay and as soon as I’d answered she’d tell me to get off the phone and go and rest!”

Pat was keen to share her experience of the scheme. She said she was excited to get involved as soon as she heard about it.

She said: “I thought it was a wonderful idea, there must be a lot of senior citizens living on their own, not able to see their family.

“It’s lovely to have a cheerful voice on the other end of the phone. We talk about school, we talk about music and how she sang in the church choir.

“We were talking the other night about getting ready for Uni. It’s a big exciting thing.”

Pat has had an interesting life. A retired teacher, she taught in Bridlington, lived in Scarborough then near Malton, before finally moving to Harrogate.

Teaching at a summer school in Scarborough for the Swedish led to a love of the country and eventually, she bought a little house there.

Pat said: “It’s lovely talking to Sophie and chatting about the music she likes.

“It’s nice she keeps in touch,there must be a lot of people who are on their own and someone like that ringing up has been lovely.”

A big meet up is being planned for those taking part in the scheme late in the year so they can all finally get to meet each other.

Emma is also hoping to launch a more comprehensive multi-generational approach to youth work which would involve pairing every young person up with an older 'mentor' (and in turn every primary aged child with a young person).

Emma said if anyone else is interested in starting a similar scheme in their area, she is happy to share the benefit of her experience, email [email protected]