Mary comes to a weekly social club hosted by local younger neighbours in the Elephant and Castle. She’s 94 and has lived within a mile of ‘Elephant’ all her life. She got married during the Blitz and was a skilled seamstress and dressmaker on the Walworth Road – one of many jobs which doesn’t really exist now.
The last seventy years living in Elephant and Castle have brought change after change. From air raids and war damage to ’60s concrete and pre-fab housing, and the recent extensive demolition and regeneration plans, Mary has seen it all. But whatever the changes all around her, she loves an evening in the company of her younger neighbours, who chat about work and apps and trips abroad, rather than with the company of her TV.
South London Cares is a new community network in Southwark and Lambeth connecting people of different ages and backgrounds – young professionals in their twenties and thirties with older neighbours like Mary in their sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties. Younger volunteers hang out with and help their older counterparts with practical support, social connection and human companionship, in order to tackle isolation and loneliness at the root.
Since we started up last August, over a hundred young professionals have volunteered to spend a little of their spare time. Part of this is about new friendships and connections within neighbourhoods – the things which make life enjoyable and make us all feel valued. And part of it is about enabling older people to understand and navigate the modern world, to feel more confident, more resilient – and more visible.
We do this because south London is a place of social extremes. It’s full of different people from different communities: people and businesses just starting up in the big multinational city; others winding down. Born and bred Londoners who’ve lived here for a century, and some who’ve been here just a few weeks. Many know a lot about Peckham and Brixton’s history, while others are part of its future.
In the mix there are some of the best connected people in Britain – students and young professionals working in finance, accounting, media, the law and PR – but also some of the most isolated. Those groups often live side-by-side, with too little interaction. This perpetuates social division and is corrosive for our communities.
The voices and visibility of our older residents are both things that can be easily improved on a person-to-person basis. That’s why South London Cares creates flexible, sociable and fun opportunities for young people to spend time with them.
Our volunteers host social clubs at evenings and weekends – new opportunities and experiences where locals can meet and chat. Other volunteers meet up one-to-one through our Love Your Neighbour scheme, providing company and companionship, or a little practical help around the house.
With everything moving so fast it’s easy for older people to feel disconnected and isolated in their communities. It’s a growing problem – but you can make a difference by showing that you care.