A Bicester resident who is almost totally blind and struggles to leave his home has overcome loneliness and isolation by connecting with others on the telephone.
Sanctuary Housing resident Derek Needham, 68, lost his sight in his left eye back in 2001 and is now suffering from severe cataracts in his right eye, leaving him unable to see anything beyond ‘blurry shapes’.
Coupled with panic attacks and agoraphobia that have left him all but unable to leave his house alone, Derek says he became very lonely despite the support of his family.
But things turned around when he was referred to the Phone Friends scheme, run by Age UK Oxfordshire with funding from Sanctuary Housing, which puts lonely people in touch with trained volunteers to chat on the phone.
And Derek found the chats with his Phone Friend, Jenny, so inspiring that he has now signed up to become a volunteer himself – recently leaving the house to undergo training to enable him to call others in need of some companionship.
Up until a few years ago Derek was very active, enjoying being outdoors and always busy in the garden.
But things changed very quickly as his vision declined and, before Phone Friends, his only regular human contact was with his youngest son Stacy, 28, who has Asperger’s Syndrome and lives with Derek, along with daily calls and weekly visits from his daughter, Lisa.
Besides his children, Derek found he only had the TV or radio for company, which he says is “not the same as human company but better than nothing”.
Derek explained: “A few years ago I started suffering from panic attacks. It became a struggle to leave the house. As time went by I started to go out less and less.
“The chats on the phone have been very valuable to me and I thought I could help others in the same way. People can get lonely. There are some people out there with nobody at all. It is such a simple idea but it makes a real difference.”
The Phone Friends scheme saw a total of 1,409 calls made to 273 lonely older people in Oxfordshire during August alone.
Sanctuary has supported Age UK Oxfordshire extensively to help tackle social isolation, providing £6,500 this year to help make a difference.
Kate Winstanley, Sanctuary’s neighbourhood partnerships manager, commented: “We are committed to supporting projects that tackle loneliness and social isolation and help our residents live happy and fulfilled lives.
“We’re delighted the scheme has made such a positive difference for Derek and that he will now be helping deliver this valuable support to others.”
This project is part-funded by Sanctuary’s Community Investment Fund, supporting projects which benefit Sanctuary residents and their communities.
To find out more about Phone Friends, make a referral or join as a volunteer, call 01295 234850 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.