Bringing companionship to those who are isolated

For many of our clients across New Zealand, the visit by their support worker is the only social interaction they may have. Family may live far away or, through their immobility, they may not be able to get out and socialise as well as they may have before. Some might not like to socialise but still value a smile or kind word.

One client, Frederick, wrote to us with some touching words: ‘I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation for the fine service your organisation is providing. I thought I would write now, because nobody can foresee the future, or how long one’s health will last and I would hate to go without conveying my thanks. The extra care I receive both helps us cope and brings a fresh face into the mix and, if I may say so, a very cheerful and kind one in my two support workers. While each is as different as the sun and the moon, both bring me more than help but human contact too. As you will have supposed, chronic illnesses tend to isolate us from participation in the outside world, weak immune systems like mine even more so’.

These words bring a powerful message of isolation but also of hope and joy in the small pleasure of a bit of human company. It also conveys the importance of character that runs as a vein through the support worker community – that being a caring, upbeat person who brings joy by supporting others.

We see our support workers as small beacons in the community. They work tirelessly often during antisocial hours, to bring much needed support to help people live independently in their own homes. And it’s that home which is the true mark of independence; filled with memories, a client’s own character in the ornaments, decor and furniture.

So if you feel like you could provide support to members of your community get in touch with Access and talk to us about becoming a support worker. We’d love to hear from you.

However, if you are not able to then consider how you can be that important social bridge to isolated people in your community. We often find that many clients who do not have family nearby depend on having good networks with their neighbours. It can be these extensions to the idea of family that can provide an important social interaction and feeling of safety to isolated people. Here’s some ideas on how you could help elderly or isolated people in your immediate community:

Dog walking – many elderly people may value the companionship of owning a dog, yet find it difficult to walk them everyday. Doing a flyer drop may help you provide a valuable service. Organisations like the Cinnamon Trust in the UK arrange for volunteers to support elderly people through regular dog walking.

If someone is web-savvy then they can join This acts as an online neighbourhood watch to help neighbours connect, share and look out for each other. If you want to connect with people who may feel isolated then this could be a good platform to do this.

Gardening – if you know someone who is isolated in your street or community then offering to do a spot of gardening could be a good chance to provide them with support and company. Plus if it’s in your street then you can enjoy the fruits of your labours every time you drive past.

Little Free Libraries – These birdhouse-like book exchanges were first created as a tribute by an American Todd Bol, to his mother, a former teacher and lifelong reader. Today there are more than 17,000 Little Free Libraries in 60 countries around the world. Even one Access support worker helped develop one in the name of a client in Palmerston North.

Mini-libraries run on the honour system: Take a book when you see one you like and contribute a book when you have one to share. Beyond promoting literacy, Little Free Libraries connect people. When neighbours pause to browse, they are just as likely to strike up a conversation as to find their next read. “The reason Little Free Library has been successful is that people tell us, constantly, ‘I’ve met more neighbours in a week than I’ve met in 30 years,’” Bol says.

There are often many ways to strike up community activities including hosting tool sharing, creating roadside gardens, street fairs, food bags and food sharing (some of our staff give homemade preserves to elderly neighbours around Christmas). However sometimes the best way to connect to people is simply to talk – talk to them when taking the bin out, walking down the street to the shops, walking your dog or collecting the post. Once you build your own connections you can find out who is in your area and which people may benefit from some company or extra support. You’ll find if someone in the street is isolated then someone else may know who they are and be able to help connect you, so you can bring them some much needed, and no doubt appreciated, help in some small way.

We are gregarious creatures and what’s the point in being part of a community if you don’t get to enjoy helping each other every now and then.


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