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Come and Meet Each Other helps lonely elderly people in Dartford, Gravesend and Swanley

By Oliver Kemp

Vivian Roberts, from Tunbridge Wells, lost her husband Peter when he was just 64.

“He was a very quiet man, but he made me laugh. Once he was gone, there was no-one in the house. I had my mother, and she died four months after he died. So I was totally alone,” she said.

But the 68-year-old has avoided the social isolation often felt by older people, by joining CAMEO.

Vivian Roberts lost her husband when he was 64, but she found friendship through CAMEO

CAMEO (Come and Meet Each Other) is a scheme run by the charity Imago. The company ran their first 12 week programme in Tunbridge Wells in 2012, welcoming elderly people who are experiencing loneliness to take part in activities and meet one another.

Kate Cage, 76, also from Tunbridge Wells, lost her husband George of 35 years and felt completely isolated before she joined the group. “We do become invisible, which is very sad,” she said. “We’ve had a life, why can’t we continue our lives?”

Vivian and Kate joined the programme in 2012 along with other lonely elderly people in the Tunbridge Wells area. The group got on so well it still meets every month, and they have even gone on holidays abroad together.

“We went to Holland which was a really good laugh,” said Vivian. “You’re not made to feel a burden, actually you’re made to feel it’s normal to feel alone.”

The group from the original programme still meet up and go on holiday together. (13699716)
The group from the original programme still meet up and go on holiday together. (13699716)

Following the success of the programme, Imago has this week started three new CAMEO programmes in the Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley areas.

John Weller is organising the project and said these areas of North Kent have high numbers of older people experiencing loneliness.

“It’s an area where there’s quite high levels of deprivation,” he said, “We are aware there is quite a significant problem, particularly amongst older people with social isolation and loneliness and the effects that can have on their health and wellbeing.”

John Weller, director of development at Imago, explains the activities on offer during the North Kent CAMEO programmes

The charity will be running nine 12 week programmes across the three areas in 2019, hoping to reach around 200 lonely older people in North Kent.

The Campaign to End Loneliness say there are 1.2 million chronically lonely older people in the UK. Robin Hewings, Director of Campaigns, Policy and Research at the organisation, said these kind of projects are vital in stopping elderly people from finding themselves in this situation.

“It’s great to see this new project starting for older people in Dartford, Gravesend and Swanley,” he said. “The Government has recognised that loneliness is one of the major public health issues facing this country and it will need action from across society to tackle it.

"In our experience, bringing people together around what they enjoy can be one of the best ways to help foster the social relationships that are so important to our wellbeing.”

Kate Cage lost her husband George of 35 years and experienced chronic loneliness (13836574)
Kate Cage lost her husband George of 35 years and experienced chronic loneliness (13836574)

Research by the Kent Public Health Conservatory estimated almost 30,000 people in Kent aged 65 and over are at an increased risk of loneliness and social isolation.

In February Kent County Council set up a task force to try and tackle elderly loneliness and social isolation.

Sally Simms ran the first CAMEO group and said older people often become isolated when their partner dies, leaving them lacking in the skills needed to live alone.

Sally Simms told us the skills the scheme aims to teach elderly people

“Men and women had got stuff that they weren’t able to do,” she said. “Some weren’t able to cook, so we taught them easy things with slow cookers. Some of the women didn’t have a clue to do the electronics or where the fuse box was.”

Sally said that one of the biggest hurdles to tackling loneliness is getting people to admit they are experiencing feelings of chronic loneliness.

“It’s alright to be lonely, just admit it,” said Vivian.

You can find more information about the programme here.

Read more: All the latest news from Gravesend

Read more: All the latest news from Dartford

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