Isabella is a life-line to Sue Seers. She’s not her carer, support worker, or even a family member – but a wheelchair.
For two years Sue was unable to leave her house due to deteriorating health. But then the British Red Cross helped her get a wheelchair and start a journey away from loneliness and social isolation.
“I felt so down. I’d been stuck within four walls for years and I don’t like being indoors,” Sue said.
Sue’s not alone. Over nine million people in the UK (almost one fifth of the population) report they are always or often lonely.
The Red Cross is part of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness which aims to raise a national conversation about the scale and impact of loneliness in the UK.
Over the course of the year the commission focuses on key groups of people who experience loneliness and social isolation.
This month the focus is on disabled people with a new report revealing over half of disabled people report feeling lonely.
Loneliness and social isolation are indiscriminate – anyone can experience them. Our research has shown how loneliness can be triggered by key life transitions, like retirement or bereavement.
And while disabled people experience the same life transitions as everyone else, having a disability or mobility issue like Sue, puts them at greater risk of being chronically lonely.
The Red Cross has long delivered independent living services to help people live independently at home, which is how we met Sue.
But we’re also doing our bit to help tackle loneliness and social isolation in the UK through new services funded by Co-op.
‘No one has ever stood by me like the Red Cross has’
Service support assistant Cath Brown was one of the first to meet Sue.
“She was low and deflated when I first saw her. She was socially isolated and it was clear that we needed to get her out and about again,” Cath said.
Cath was a welcome new contact for Sue.
“I just wanted somebody to talk to. They listened and they cared,” Sue said.
Noting that mobility issues were at the root of Sue’s feelings of loneliness and her social isolation, Cath helped Sue identify a suitable wheelchair and apply for a grant to pay for it.
“I noticed a big change in Sue’s personality after our initial meeting,” Cath said.
“The prospect of having a wheelchair gave her something to look forward to. She cried when she rang me up to tell me that her application for a grant to buy it had been successful. It was lovely.”
Sue named her wheelchair Isabella after a dear friend who had recently passed away. It gave her a life-line she hadn’t had before.
“Cath has been brilliant. I’m so glad the Red Cross are here to help people like me. My son can now push me to the shops and into town for a meal,” she said.
Sue’s health does fluctuate and sometimes, even with a wheelchair, she is unable to leave the house. But the option it gives her on a good day is still something she didn’t have before.
“No one has ever stood by me like the Red Cross has,” she said.
Red Cross and wheelchairs
The Red Cross knows the difference a wheelchair can make to someone’s wellbeing. Sue needed help securing a long-term wheelchair for her needs, but we also provide a short-term wheelchair loan service. In fact, we’ve been doing this since the First World War.
Our research found that loaning people wheelchairs allows them to retain a sense of independence, reduce social isolation, enable recovery and wellbeing, and can even prevent and delay people’s needs for health care and support.
Our mobility aids services loans out 75,000 wheelchairs each year across the UK.
Our wheelchairs have helped people in a variety of ways: from helping Julie Maxwell to recover from a broken leg after ice-skating in New York, to facilitating war veteran Luis DiMarco’s visit to a special memorial service in Holland.
Volunteer to help
If you would like to help those in your area who may be experiencing loneliness or social isolation, why not volunteer with us? Just a few hours could help someone feel so much better.