In this blog post Anne Callaghan, our Campaign Manager in Scotland looks at the acts of kindness happening to celebrate St Andrew’s Day on 30th November.
Having a patron saint who was famed for his kindness is quite convenient for the Campaign to End Loneliness in Scotland. We believe that kindness and providing opportunities for people to come together can be an effective antidote to the terrible loneliness that so many people feel – both young and old. The #BeLikeStAndrew campaign culminates on 30 November when St Andrew’s Day is celebrated. It’s also a good time to reflect back on what I’ve learnt about kindness, together and loneliness in Scotland so far.
I’ve been in post now for six months as Campaign Manager in Scotland with a specific remit to look at what’s happening in Glasgow city and how we can make a difference. Glasgow is one of four areas around the UK that we are hoping to inspire more individual, community, council, and government action.
People Make Glasgow
Glasgow city’s slogan is ‘People Make Glasgow’. That is true – Glasgow is a friendly place. It is also true that Glasgow’s health and life expectancy is 30% lower than comparable cities in what has come to be known as the ‘Glasgow effect’.
A recent report from the Glasgow Centre for Population and Health suggested that in the 1950s and 60s younger people and families moved to towns surrounding Glasgow, and this has added to the problem. Poverty and deprivation are huge challenges in Glasgow with over 20% of the city’s population living with income poverty.
Could a lack of connection and loneliness between people play an important part in this effect over the past few decades? The jury’s certainly out on that but it has to form part of the solution.
There’s a brilliant Scottish play by Tony Roper called The Steamie which celebrates it’s 30th anniversary this year. In the play one of the characters laments the upcoming passing of the washing houses as it provided a place for women of all ages to get to know each other and help foster a greater sense of community. This was where you could find people that you could ask for help from and vice versa. I am not arguing to go back to wash houses or against the convenience of washing machines, but I do think we need more excuses to get together and chat so we can build relationships and stronger communities.
The national average for people facing chronic loneliness is 10% of any given population – in Glasgow that would translate into over 15,000 people 55+- and in Glasgow we need to look at 55+ given that for some, feeling older comes faster.
Loneliness has profound impacts on health- both mental and physical health. It is as bad for you than smoking 15 cigarettes a day and worse than obesity . It also damages our quality of life. And what’s more, a further 30% may be experiencing loneliness on a regular basis – and if steps aren’t taken to ensure people have opportunities for connection, that number could grow as over the next 20 years, 50+ will form the majority of the population across the UK.
Kindness is good for us
But kindness is good for us as individuals too. Dr David R Hamilton makes a compelling scientific case for it:
“Stress is linked with cardiovascular disease. Small amounts of stress are okay and even relatively large amounts too, if not too frequent, but consistent stress is associated with poor health outcomes through having a negative impact on the heart, arteries, and immune system. Stress is ultimately associated with shortened lifespan.
On the other hand, the warm feelings we get through kindness generate oxytocin and nitric oxide. Nitric oxide softens the walls of our arteries and improves blood flow around the body. Together, oxytocin and nitric oxide reduce blood pressure.”
Over 6 months what I’ve learnt is that there are daily acts of togetherness and kindness that go on with, by and for, older people in Glasgow. The scale of the challenge is so big though that it requires us all to get involved.
So how could we #BeLikeStAndrew? The answer, in part, lies within us. How many of us have an older neighbour we haven’t seen for a while that we could check in with? For those us lucky enough to have an older relative, let’s make the time to pick up the phone to have a chat with, or even better pop round for a cup of tea. Or at the supermarket check-out or aisle, look up and pass the time of day with someone older who is shopping too.
There are lots of stories about how ‘just passing the day’ with someone can make someone feel better, more connected and less lonely . And then persuade others to do the same via Facebook, twitter and word of mouth.
The Jo Cox Commission and the Eden Project promote the #GreatChristmasGetTogether to help people in the run up to the festive season and #theBigLunch in June – all geared to inviting neighbours , former colleagues or colleagues, or family round to get to know each other.
The Campaign To End Loneliness campaign in Glasgow will go live with a Loneliness Summit, co-hosted with Glasgow City Council on 6 February 2018. The next phase of the UK-wide public campaign will go in spring 2018 where there will be more details of how we can all make a difference across the country.