Back in December 2016, the British Red Cross in partnership with the Co-op, revealed epidemic levels of loneliness and social isolation in the UK.
Now we’ve started to roll out connecting communities: the name of our brand new services designed to help tackle these issues head on.
At the heart of these are an inspirational team of individuals, people like Vicky Day and Nazia Rehman.
Both these women know what it is like to be lonely and are on a mission to ensure others in a similar position get the help they need and deserve.
“Everyone associates loneliness with the elderly and I never knew it affected younger people until it affected me,” said Vicky.
At 20 years old, Vicky is one of the youngest new recruits to the Red Cross’ nationwide community connectors team.
“I can’t wait to start my new role as a community connector in Thanet, as I can help other people who have been in situations like myself,” she said.
“For me the Red Cross was the one thing that helped me to stand on my own two feet.”
When Vicky was 19, she was a passenger in a friend’s car when they were hit by a drunk driver. She was rushed to hospital with life-threatening injuries.
Vicky survived, but damage to her spinal cord and the nerve in her leg left her unable to walk.
Having been a volunteer with the Red Cross since she was 16, Vicky knew she could turn to them for help.
The Red Cross helped Vicky get a wheelchair, a service we have been providing since the First World War, and prepared her home ahead of her discharge from hospital.
“They gave me all the mobility aids I could ever need and it was all there waiting for me when I got back from hospital. They were amazing,” she said.
Coping at home in a wheelchair was difficult for Vicky and left her feeling alone and isolated.
“I didn’t want to leave the house because I didn’t feel I was able to do anything for myself,” she said.
“I had friends but I didn’t want to see them because I couldn’t do the things they were doing. I cut myself off.”
The Red Cross provided 12 weeks of support at home to help Vicky regain her independence and reconnect with the people around her.
“Thankfully the Red Cross gave me the support I needed and gave me the courage to go back out into the public. Then I could start the long journey of learning to walk again.”
Now, Vicky is ready to start helping others.
“When I saw the role, I knew straight away that I had to apply,” she said.
“It was something that I’ve experienced first-hand – the loneliness and social isolation after my accident. I want to help people who may have gone through similar experiences to me.”
Nazia’s life changed after the birth of her second child.
“The labour went on and on and when my daughter came out I had no idea if she was alive or not,” she said.
“I was in excruciating pain, and after seven hours of agony, tests discovered I had ruptured my uterus, bladder and cervix.
“I was in so much pain that I couldn’t even speak. At some point I must have blacked out due to the shock and I genuinely thought I had died.”
Both mother and baby recovered. But the experience stayed with Nazia, filling her with anxiety when she gave birth to her third child.
Even though this birth, a planned C-section, went smoothly, it triggered memories of her last birth and slowed her recovery. She felt isolated and alone.
“I come from a big family with eight brothers and sisters, and although they were around, I was extremely lonely,” she said.
“Their experiences of child birth were very different from mine. I’d just had major surgery and felt I had no one to talk to. I couldn’t even talk about it without bursting into tears.
“The doctor suggested counselling for the trauma but there wasn’t anything available for six months. So I carried on with caring for my children, living in a bubble and got on with life, as you do. But I started feeling worse.”
After struggling for some time, Nazia decided to try self-help.
“I read lots of self-help books, starting practising mindfulness and made a conscious decision to make happiness a priority.”
Nazia started to feel better and changed her career towards helping others as a holistic therapist. After a few years, she wanted to do more, which is when she came across the Red Cross.
“The role of community connector came up when I was looking for work in my local area and I truly felt this was my calling,” she said.
Nazia is now part of a team of volunteers and staff in Oldham, working to help people overcome loneliness and social isolation.
She recently met her first service user: a 91-year-old widow who lives alone.
“It was brilliant chatting to this man. He was 91 years old and he’d had such an interesting life,” Nazia said.
“We talked about places he’d travelled, and his love of history, and he said he loves a curry so we’ll probably explore making one together!
“He doesn’t want to go out just yet, but that’s absolutely fine, everyone has different needs. We’ll set small goals and work together to achieve them.”
Forty nine new services are being introduced in 39 locations across the UK, targeting communities where high levels of need have been identified.
These will be delivered by a team of more than 50 staff and over 500 volunteers offering direct, personalised support to help lonely and isolated people connect with others in their communities.
We are still looking for more volunteers to help people in their local community. Why not join Vicky and Nazia by becoming part of the team?