Jeremy* is a regular at the Marion Cultural Centre, often coming to the Centre to play the community piano and take his mind off his troubles – presumed to include homeless or at least in unstable housing. At times, his behaviour was seen as a problem, and police were sometimes called to remove him.
Then something changed. Volunteers from the Loneliness Warriors program started to visit the Centre regularly. Loneliness Warriors is a pilot program set up by Community Centres SA (CCSA) with support from Office of Ageing Well to bring volunteers with conversational skills and knowledge of community facilities and services to the community to increase community connectedness. The Loneliness Warrior volunteers struck up conversations with Jeremy from their first visit. They talked to Jeremy every time they were at the Centre. Their conversations were casual but as Jeremy connected with the Loneliness Warriors, the conversation became more in-depth going for 30 – 45 minutes. The discussions were often punctuated with piano playing and comparing favourite pianists. The Loneliness Warriors listened deeply and gave him space to share his load with them. In these conversations, he described missing his children and seemed at a loss.
Over the course of some weeks, the Loneliness Warriors and others at the Centre, noticed that he was more composed and had ‘cleaned himself up’. It’s hard to attribute this change to the Loneliness Warriors, however they certainly had very positive effect and Jeremy enjoyed the conversations. Perhaps, feeling heard and less lonely.
Loneliness is insidious. Mother Theresa said, “Of all the diseases I have known, loneliness is the worst.” It presents a greater risk to premature death than smoking, alcohol and obesity. While also increasing the length of recovery time from illness and disease. Right now, at least 1 in 4 Australians are lonely. People are, by nature social creatures. Feeling connected to another human is as important as air and water. In fact, being socially connected leads to a 50% reduction of risk in mortality. To promote social connection, Loneliness Warriors volunteers were trained and highly skilled volunteers who were based in and around the Marion Cultural Centre Plaza. They aimed to connect with and support the members of your community who may be feeling isolated and need to connect to their community.
The program was designed to target people who may frequent public areas who may be otherwise isolated and potentially lonely. The Loneliness Warriors moved around the area seeking out people who appear lonely or engaging those that approached them. Local services and businesses were engaged to make referrals to the Loneliness Warriors. Conversations included a mixed approach, sometimes a simple informal chat and general guidance or a more focused conversation to link people into services and community supports they may need.
The Loneliness Warrior pilot project ran from May 2021 – May 2022. It is being evaluated and CCSA is hopeful that it can become a more permanent way to address loneliness and support people to re-connect with their community.
*Please note, the name of the person referred to in this article has been changed to protect their privacy.
This article was first published at WeekendPlus.