A podcast series championing great work being done in Cheshire West and Chester to tackle loneliness and social isolation is to be launched during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week. Presented and produced by ASFB Productions' Clare Freeman, it’s the first UK podcast series of its kind. ‘Discover Brightlife’ captures the heartfelt stories of those who have suddenly found themselves facing life alone over 50.
Now three years into a five year National Lottery funded project, set up by the Big Lottery Fund,, the series launched on 14th May unveils the lessons the team at Brightlife Cheshire have learnt when it comes to easing social isolation - and highlights the areas where more work is needed.
87 year-old Thelma attends a Tuesday drop-in group in Chester, and says she’s afraid of what lies ahead for her future after recently becoming widowed. She tries to describe what loneliness is: “It’s as if the light goes out of your life. It’s a feeling of emptiness. And feeling that you’re not important to anyone. Friends are really important to help you feel connected to life.”
After finding himself recently disabled, and his marriage of 33 years breaking down - Tim from Moulton reveals he’s only left the house three times in the last 9 months - and those visits were to a Brightlife support event for just a few hours on a Saturday once a month: “I don’t see anybody. I don’t have any contact with anybody. Places like this… this makes so much difference to me.”
Age UK estimates there are 1.2 million people who are chronically lonely in England - that’s one in 20 adults. The cost of loneliness and its impact on health is something Dr Jonathan Griffiths, Winsford GP and Chair of NHS Vale Royal CCG is keen to learn more about using Brightlife’s referral scheme. “Being lonely is associated with an increased risk in developing coronary disease, heart disease and stroke. It’s comparable risk factor for early death is smoking 15 cigarettes per day.”
Doctors nationally are being encouraged to recommend the importance of staying active to patients showing signs of isolation: “It’s not about somebody doing to you or fixing you, or solving your problem for you - the project is about connecting you with other people who are also lonely, and together you can solve your own worries by being better connected.”
The podcast series uncovers inspirational stories - such as that of spritely 90 year-old Audrey Thomas from Malpas who, after finding herself isolated form a series of health complications, discovered a talent for poetry and fine art: “I always believed I couldn’t even draw a line straight, then at 89 there I am sketching!” She cites recently appearing on Page 3 of the Chester Chronicle, having her story told in America and appearing on BBC Radio as proof that it’s never too late to learn a new skill in life.
From local churches, pubs, day care centres to village halls - all corners of the Cheshire community have been engaging and expressing their support to help the project be a success in challenging social isolation for the over 50s.
At the core of the project is the passion of social prescribers who work tirelessly in Malpas, Winsford and areas of Chester to find the people who need a helping hand, listen to what they have to say and tailor the right answer for them - for their interests and locality. Brightlife’s work in the rest of Cheshire West and Chester is to encourage people to be aware of social isolation and loneliness.
Chris McMahon leads the team based in Northwich: “Some people are really pleased just to have a visitor, to have someone to offer a cup of tea too. You see a real difference within an hour that you’ve spent with somebody. As the project continues, hopefully we can get more evidence that this approach does work and that it can help to build stronger communities as well.”
The first three episodes of ‘Discover Brightlife’ are released on Monday 14th May, in support of Mental Health Awareness Week. Brightlife is passionate about creating spaces where everyone feels valued and supported.
For more information visit: BrightlifeCheshire.Org.uk
The ‘Discover Brightlife’ series will be available to download via Apple Podcasts app and at anchor.fm/discoverbrightlife
All episodes have been produced by ASFB Productions, on behalf of Brightlife.
‘Discover Brightlife’ Episode Schedule:
1: ‘The Importance of Laughter’ (Released 14th May)
From the school girls reconnecting at 80, to Tim’s first trip out in months, meet some of the people who’ve found a new way after facing a life alone.
2. Diagnosing Loneliness (Released 14th May)
GPs Jonathan and Achla debate loneliness vs depression, how to spot the signs that someone needs help when isolated and express their confidence in knowing that the Brightlife project is making a difference to their patients.
3. Reconnecting The Lost and Lonely (Released 14th May)
It’s Katherine and Chris’s job to find those who need help, listen to them and recommend activities especially suitable. With time and patience, being a social prescriber is a hugely rewarding role but there are also times which have shocked and saddened both of them.
4. Audrey At 90, Now Artist And Poet (Released 21st May)
Widowed at 59, once leading a busy bustling life within her community - suddenly Audrey found herself housebound with health complications and no driving licence. Reading a letter to her 30 year-old self, she considers Brightlife a lifeline to helping her find no hobbies and friends - proving that you’re never too old for anything in life. Plus a chance to meet some of the project’s inspirational women, celebrated during International Women’s Day.
5. Carers, Caring And Being Cared For (Released 28th May)
Jackie and Sue create, find and nurture support groups across Cheshire to help connect those in need with those who can. As social prescribers, what they don’t know about the local services isn’t worth knowing. But the stories which break their hearts time and time again are the carers they support. The partners who dedicate their lives - no matter what - to caring for their spouse until the very end.
6. Connecting 360 (Released 4th June)
Nothing surprises Yvonne and Simone anymore. They started Community Compass, which receives funding from Brightlife, walking the streets of Winsford asking those over 50 what services they felt were missing in their area. At the heart of their mission, is to find creative new ways for older people to stay social, get active and have fun. It just so happens that they also laugh a lot along the way too.
7. From Sex Over 50 To Popping Into Church… (Released 11th June)
Tuesday morning’s are a hoot at Sue’s drop in club at a church in Chester. Yet many of the participants say they’re just grateful to have a reason to get up and out for the day. From newly widowed Thelma struggling with her future, to Patricia feeling lost in a new neighbourhood, to Olwyn’s revelation about her part time boyfriend who’s great with the plumbing…The group sit back, smile and enjoy an eyebrow-raising quiz about sex, a few cups of tea and a biscuit.
Brightlife is a partnership led by Age UK Cheshire (Registered Charity Number 1091608). It was awarded £5m as part of the Big Lottery’s Fulfilling Lives, Ageing Better fund, which has given a total of £82m to 14 areas throughout England in order to improve the lives of up to 200,000 older people.
The Brightlife partnership includes: Age UK Cheshire, Older People’s Network, Cheshire West and Chester Council, West Cheshire CCG, Vale Royal CCG, Cheshire and Warrington Social Enterprise Partnership, Chester Voluntary Action, Deafness Support Network, Rural Community Services, Sanctuary Housing and West Cheshire Inter Faith Forum.
Nationally, over 1 million older people say they are always or often feel lonely, and two-fifths say the television is their main form of company. With the numbers of older people aged 65 or over in the UK predicted to rise by nearly 50% in the next 20 years, loneliness is an urgent problem.
Ageing Better is a six-year £78 million National Lottery funded programme set up by the Big Lottery Fund to support people in later life through working with older people to create new and enjoyable ways for them to be actively involved in their communities, helping to combat social isolation and loneliness.
Partnerships based in Birmingham, Bristol, Camden, Cheshire, East Lindsey, Hackney, Isle of Wight, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Sheffield, Thanet and Torbay put older people in the lead to help shape services that tackle isolation and loneliness.