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March 11, 2020

No man is an isola

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; (John Donne, English poet, 1572-1631)

I write this in self-isolation, having returned from northern Italy shortly before the drastic measures were introduced there. I feel absolutely fine, and I’m near the end of the isolation period. But it’s made me reflect on what we mean by ‘isolation’. Coming from Latin ‘insula’, and Italian ‘isola’ (island), it perhaps literally means ‘make yourself into an island’.

I have plenty of food (and toilet rolls!) and I’m well set up to work from home. There has been an element of welcoming the solitude and the lack of interruptions. But even after a couple of days, I am missing the daily contact with colleagues and the knowledge that I can just pop out to the shop for supplies. And I felt a momentary sense of excitement when I heard the postie pushing things – no doubt junk! – through the door.

I am part of a society that has developed new solutions to isolation – electronic bridges from the island to the mainland, and to the rest of the archipelago of tiny islands. At Time to Shine I’m part of a great, supportive team. And I have a network of close friends. But those positives don’t eliminate my experience of anxiety and the fact that I have an ‘underlying health condition.’ We are surely all vulnerable in some way.

The focus of our work at Time to Shine is about reducing social isolation and loneliness among older people. Most of the work we fund through our brilliant delivery partners seeks to find innovative ways of connecting people and helping them get together. And here we are, on the brink of asking, probably telling, people to isolate themselves in their homes!

This will be an immensely challenging time for so many people in that situation. For some it will trigger or increase feelings of loneliness, emphasising a lack of friends or family, and may ignite mental health problems and cut them off from essential services. Older people are more vulnerable to coronavirus, and many are less likely to be in close social networks and to have the technological tools to stay connected. Even with good, supportive neighbours, it could become very difficult to get help from the usual channels. Among our key learning themes from Time to Shine, the need to be flexible and to remain person-centred, really come to the fore.

We are also seeing an epidemic – of the social media variety – that basically says: ‘We’re OK, coronavirus only kills old people, or people who are immunocompromised’. This sort of attitude demonstrates all too clearly how undervalued older (and disabled) people are within our society. This confirms the importance of our Age Proud Leeds campaign to challenge ageism, and similar initiatives elsewhere.

An age friendly community is a better, friendly community for everyone. Truly, no one is an island.

Rob Cook
Communications Officer, Time to Shine