- Linda Baldry, 71, can go for several days at a time without seeing anyone
Painful arthritis in her knee means 71-year-old Linda Baldry, a widow, can go for several days at a time without leaving her house and ‘without seeing anyone’.
But a new initiative is brightening up her life – a regular free film club, hosted by her local GP practice, Saxmundham Health, in Suffolk.
‘I really look forward to it,’ says Linda.
The monthly club – brainchild of GP Dr John Havard and his team – is designed to help combat loneliness, which is associated with a significantly increased risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia.
‘Loneliness is as big a risk for heart attacks as smoking 15 cigarettes a day,’ says Dr Havard. ‘But because it’s intangible, many people are not aware.
The monthly film club – brainchild of GP Dr John Havard and his team – is designed to help combat loneliness
‘Loneliness is as big a risk for heart attacks as smoking 15 cigarettes a day,’ says Dr Havard (left)
The film club, run in the community centre on Sunday afternoons, seems to have hit the spot
‘We became particularly alert to the negative impact of loneliness during the pandemic. We serve a rural community – quite a number of our patients are retired and live alone and weren’t able to see close relatives.
‘We had a definite increase in patients – particularly older people – who were seeking treatment for depression and low mood.’
Suzanne Wyard, a mental health nurse at the surgery, adds that social isolation can easily lead to both, ‘which, in turn, can lead to people paying less attention to their health and so they fail to turn up for check-ups – for instance, to monitor blood pressure’.
‘It can become a vicious circle and they also become reluctant to leave the house,’ she says.
The film club, run in the community centre on Sunday afternoons, seems to have hit the spot, however – attendances have more than doubled since the first screening (of Akenfield, a farming story set locally) last October.
More than 50 people turned out for a recent showing of the Oscar-winning film Belfast – the biggest turnout to date. (The film choices are put to the vote and uplifting ones are chosen.)
The GP practice has had ‘dozens’ of messages of thanks from patients, says Dr Havard.
More than 50 people turned out for a recent showing of the Oscar-winning film Belfast – the biggest turnout to date
The event has many positives, says Dr Havard (pictured) – not least an opportunity to chat over tea and cake afterwards and make new friends
The film club is one of several community initiatives for Dr Havard’s patients – the practice also runs a diabetes weight-loss clinic and bought an electric car to help with medication deliveries, patient transport to and from the surgery and for the practice paramedic to use for home visits.
The surgery pays for the film licence, room hire and cakes, which costs around £120 per session. The staff particularly encourage those they think would benefit to join.
‘Often people don’t like to admit they’re lonely – they see it as somehow a failing, which, of course, it isn’t,’ adds Suzanne Wyard.
‘They might not come if you put on a ‘social event’, but inviting them to watch a film is another matter.’
The event has many positives, says Dr Havard – not least an opportunity to chat over tea and cake afterwards and make new friends.
‘It’s just good fun – I’m looking forward to the next meeting,’ says 85-year-old Ruth Cooper, a regular film-goer.
‘Sundays can be a really bad day for lots of elderly people because everyone is at home.’
A much-anticipated highlight will be a joint event in December with the local Brownies – who will bring along home-made cakes. The film for that Sunday is Home Alone.
As to the health benefits for patients, Dr Havard says social isolation cannot easily be measured, but that it’s early days and that this is just the beginning of initiatives to help patients who are lonely – and reduce the long-term implications this can have on health.
He says: ‘Anything that we can do to combat loneliness is a good thing – and it’s even better if it doesn’t involve prescribing drugs.’
How you can help
Become a befriender for charity AGE UK’s Telephone Friendship Service, which matches volunteers with older people.
Volunteers need to be over 18, live in the UK, and be able to provide 30 minutes on the same day each week and commit to at least one year in the role. Visit: ageuk.org.uk/friend
The British Red Cross offers support to people in their communities. Visit: redcross org.uk/get-involved/volunteer.