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June 18, 2020

Phone a new friend with OWLS

Lockdown has been a particularly lonely time for people who live alone. In Kirkstall and Headingley and Hyde Park areas alone, there are 1500 older people in one-person households. That’s a lot of people potentially feeling lonely and isolated, and it’s the tip of the iceberg.

OWLS (Older Wiser Local Seniors) know this is the case for many, because alongside our fellow Neighbourhood Network Schemes in Leeds, we’ve been supporting 400 people aged 60+ with essentials since lockdown started.

By essentials we mean everything from food to company, because people can’t survive on food alone. Like many NNSs we’re providing shopping and other supplies, helping people get help and support through other services, reducing isolation with phone befriending calls, checking people are well supported through regular welfare calls, and running a Hobby Hub, which delivers jigsaws, books, DVD’s and other resources to people’s homes.

Two thirds of our members are in the shielded age group. So in short, a lot of the people we’re in touch with are at home, and trying to stay safe and stave off boredom. But many are increasingly isolated, and some were already isolated and lonely before Covid-19. What’s more, the all too common feeling amongst some older people that they no longer have anything to contribute, is a feeling made more pronounced by the current crisis. They’re indoors, while everyone else is out getting things done!

Of course, we think differently. Older people are experienced, talented and skilful, with plenty to contribute to their communities alongside everyone else. That’s why we’re asking older people to help from home.

This National Loneliness Week, OWLS has started a campaign to combat lockdown loneliness.

We’re asking anyone aged 60+ in Headingley, Burley, Hyde Park, Kirkstall or Little Woodhouse, to get in touch: we need your help to Phone a New Friend. OWLS will match you with another older person you’ve not met yet for a friendly weekly phone call. It’s that simple, it’s so easy to volunteer to help, and we think you’ll really enjoy it.

What’s more, many of the people already involved have told us how much benefit they’ve felt from the Phone a New Friend initiative. Alice Whipp, an 89 year old participant from Headingley told us

“This is one of the best things I have ever done”. “I get a lot of satisfaction from the calls, we both do”.

Watch Alice and Shehnaz’s experience of Phone a New Friend on YouTube.

Watch Pam’s story

So far there are 30 older people involved in Phone a New Friend. We’d like to reach many, many more. It’s inspiring to see older people talking the lead and helping to combat loneliness like this, but at OWLS we see this as just the start. When our worlds recover from COVID-19, and when our communities start to re-emerge, we’re aiming for a better normal for older people, not a return to the norms of loneliness and social isolation.

If you’d like to know more about Phone a New Friend, please call 0113 369 7077 or email Joanne McManus on If you’re too young to join Phone a New Friend, please help us encourage more older people to take part. You can follow our campaign on Facebook and Twitter @olderwiserowls.

Joe McManus
Community Builder, OWLS