Peterborough councillor calls for for street parties to celebrate end of pandemic and tackle elderly isolation

A Peterborough councillor has put forward a new plan, including street parties to celebrate the end of the pandemic, which he believes will help to tackle the feeling of isolation felt by many elderly people over the past year.

Friday, 21st May 2021, 6:42 am
A street party in Peterborough in 2012. Archive image.

The list of proposals has been created by Cllr Alan Dowson, representative for Fletton and Woodston. They also include increasing publicity for existing clubs and societies, increasing support for community centres as vital hubs for the community and increasing the offering of local courses to people to retirement age.

The following proposals, which are detailed in an open letter below, will be forwarded to the new leader of Peterborough City Council to ask support. It reads:

One aspect of the lockdowns has been that many of our older people have suffered from being isolated. Loneliness can have a large impact upon the mental and physical health of the individual. The effect and cost of not recognising this fact will only be revealed when our mental health and social services will have to deal with the large increase in demand for their services.

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Social networking for many older people undoubtedly helps to keep their brains and bodies working, as well as combating loneliness and feelings of isolation. We recognise this and are aware of its impact on the individual. The question for us is, what should we do now to create a more hospitable and accommodating society.

Dr Liz Robin, our recently retired Director of Public Health, has advised us to be prepared for the transition back to normality. For older people, back to normality is going to be very challenging. Especially for those people who have been sheltering and fearful of going out and mixing with other people. With the permanent closure of many shops and cafes, the opportunity for resuming this aspect of lifestyle is lost. In addition to this, there is the distinct possibility that the community spirit, and neighbourliness that brought people together has either wound down or fizzled out altogether.

A recent survey of how people have coped with the death of loved ones during the pandemic has shown that Covid grief is worse than other types of grief. It was found that 70% of bereaved people had had limited contact with their loved ones. 85% were unable to say goodbye. I personally experienced this deep emotion when I lost my wife last month. The research has shown 75% of these people now experience social isolation and loneliness.

While there will be many calls for help after the pandemic is over. We should not ignore the needs of over one third of our community; those who are over 65. Those whose voice is not strong. Meeting many of these needs should not be difficult or expensive. Many of the resources and skills are available. All we need is the commitment and the will to organise a programme of delivery. The following are some suggestions on how to do this:

Existing Societies, clubs, and organisations- Most of these have been in lockdown and will want to get up and running, and to recruit new members. We should facilitate these ambitions by coordinating effort and help with publicity.

Community Centres- Over the last few years, for a variety of reasons, our community centres have suffered from a loss of local authority support. Many were once linchpins for neighbourhood bonding and social activities, a doorstep community link for many older people. Programmes of activity have declined. There is an opportunity to revive these important centres of community life. Again, we need to ensure that each centre is helped to mount a programme that would attract older members of the community on a daily or weekly basis.

City College/U3A- The City College (Brook Street) had one of the largest programmes of community education in the country. It had its own ‘Activities in Retirement Centre.’ Over 50 courses were offered to retired people each term. Between 700 and 800 students attended these classes. The ARC had its own weekend travel club. Most secondary schools had their own evening classes programmes. Many thousands of older people mentally and physically benefitted from such provision. These classes have largely disappeared during the last 10 years. The Council, especially, with the Government’s recent announcement of more money for adult education, could mount a wide programme of courses using its buildings as venues, and the skills and experience of local people/societies.

Fortunately, the U3A, University of the Third Age, with its large local membership, is still active. Its strength shows the demand of older people for social interaction. I am sure that the U3A would expand its programme to a wider audience if the Council provided support.

The list of local clubs, societies, and organisations is a long one, but public awareness may be limited. There is a need for a central campaign to publicise their existence, and contact details. I am sure such groups as the Civic Society, Family History, Green Wheel, Books Clubs, walking groups, even weekend litter picking groups, would welcome new members. The City Council has a role to play, acting as a catalyst for making such organisations co-operate in mounting a city-wide programme and making older people of what is available.

What Action Should the Council Take Today?

Whilst many agencies should be consulted, such as AGE UK, or CPFT, the council should take steps now to implement an action plan.

1) Create a council sub-committee of interested/concerned parties to formulate an action plan.

2) Invite every society, club, association, community centre to submit plans/programmes.

3) Each of these programmes to be compiled into a city-wide booklet for distribution to every household free of charge.

4) That a week be set aside for the Town Hall reception room to be used as a hub for information, staffed by members of the various societies, clubs, associations, plus advisors from agencies such as the NHS and other care providers.

5) Along with the information hub, a free coffee/tea/biscuit area should be made available as a meeting/mix venue.

6) A designated week, be chosen, perhaps in early September as an Activities and Learning Week, with many of the groups starting their classes and activities for the autumn period. This week to be highly publicised.

7) For those who have access to the internet website and links to a variety of organisations can be contacted. Programmes could be advertised on social media. For those without internet access or not familiar with the internet, encouragement could be given through special programmes.

8) Lastly, along with the celebration of the end of the pandemic, there should be some show of unity and joy such as, perhaps, a series of street parties. Such events at the end of the Second World War, created a great bonding experience for people who had undergone severe hardship, including the loss of loved ones.

The question of finance can be easily solved. Each Councillor receives a CLF allowance each year of £1,000 to spend in his/her ward. £500 of this allowance from each Councillor would be £30,000 to cover any costing.

In summary, there are many ways we can tackle loneliness and social isolation. Offering friendship to your neighbours is a simple solution. However, our council should take some responsibility for the wellbeing of its older citizens. It must not ignore and, wherever possible, seeks to ameliorate the damage done to older people and all those affected, mentally and physically by the effects of this most terrible pandemic.