‘It feels like you’re in a prison’ – stark reality of loneliness in Norfolk revealed
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Many of us think nothing of going out with friends at night, talking to colleagues during the day and regularly catching up with family.
But for some residents like Bob Lemon and his wife Marie, what might be a chance conversation to others is a lifeline which helps prevent the pain of loneliness.
The 90-year-old's story is just one that reveals the stark reality of what it is like to be lonely and the emotional effects of a problem which, by its nature, means those affected often suffer in silence.
It is a growing epidemic in Norfolk, with Norwich last year named as one of the UK's worst cities for loneliness – where more than one in two people said they had felt the effects of loneliness at some point, and 73pc saying they had suffered with it for more than six months.
But campaigners are coming together to tackle the problem and ensure no-one feels alone, with Norfolk County Council launching its In Good Company campaign to encourage people to call in on a neighbour who might otherwise be by themselves.
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Earlier this month, £70,000 was donated to Norfolk-based companies by East of England Co-op to fight loneliness.
One of those organisations making a huge difference with a few small gestures is Norwich Door-to-Door, a volunteer-run service to help people with severe mobility problems regain their independence, equality and alleviate loneliness.
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A journey with the organisation reveals the extent of loneliness, with Mr and Mrs Lemon, from Hellesdon – who have been married since 1955 – speaking movingly of the problems they face.
Mr Lemon, 90, spoke fondly of trips to Great Yarmouth when he was younger, how he met Marie, his son's love for motorbikes and his time as a bricklayer.
But the life-long Norwich resident continues to miss his ability to drive and get out of the house.
He said: 'It feels like you're in a prison – you can't go out on your own, I do nothing. We look forward to going out.'
Door-to-Door driver John Francis and volunteer assistant Linda Harding, both from Norwich, said they often take groups on day trips, to the shops and to vital appointments.
'One of the consequences of compromised ability is loneliness,' Mr Francis said.
For passenger John Rogers aged 87, the journey to and from the shops is a 'lifeline'.
Depending on the weather, Mr Rogers waits with his walking frame in front red-brick home to make it easier for the bus.
He said: 'Twice a week I go on the bus, because otherwise I would be housebound.
'For four days I have no one to talk to at all.
'Essentially, when you're not well physically and mentally, socialising is important.'
Mr Rogers has been a member of Door-to-Door for five years. Since he signed up for the service his sight worsened and mental health has deteriorated.
Door-to-Door was one of eight organisations donated to by East of England Co-op for their fight against loneliness.
But is not just the elderly who experience this social separation.
According to Sunbeam Play in Great Yarmouth, children on the Autistic Spectrum often face social disapproval, as their different patterns of play and ways of socialising can sometimes lead the families and children becoming social outcasts.
Young adults from lower socioeconomic areas can also experience the cold reality of loneliness.
'Hang out' spaces have been introduced at organisations such as Lighthouse Attleborough, offering teenagers the opportunity to integrate with in a healthy and safe space.
Loneliness does not discriminate and these organisations, as well as others, have supported members of the county live through it.
Campaigners have said loneliness needs to be made a public health priority.
However they have also stressed that loneliness is completely subjective and that some people, such as creative types, may feel the effects of loneliness less than those who do not prefer periods alone.
Helping in the fight against loneliness
Norfolk County Council is part of the In Good Company campaign being run by more than 20 organisations where shops, pubs, parish council and other community organisations are recognised with a new mark for helping to prevent isolation.
It says that no-one should have a lonely day if they don't want to.
Organisations, whether they be shops, pubs or parish councils, are
given a quality mark is they successfully apply to be part of the campaign and do something that goes some way to combatting
isolation in their communities.
'The In Good Company Quality Mark is one way of recognising and endorsing all of the work they are doing for their communities,' the
council has said.
Other organisations across the county working to curb loneliness include Gateway Vineyard, Hub Community Project, Lighthouse Attleborough, New Routes Integration, Sunbeams Play,Supporting Women and Activities Network (SWAN) and GoodGym.