‘No man is an Island’

‘No man is an Island’. Most people in the English speaking world are familiar with this famous quotation from the writings of John Donne. These five words written in the 16th century highlight the connectedness of people. They encapsulate the idea that no one is self-sufficient; that everyone relies on others. Our lives are enriched if we are part of a wider circle.

I am Hannah. I have recently been appointed as one of the 3 Community Circles Connectors in Doncaster (along with Mary and Rachel). I do not consider myself to be an island, more as part of a continent, made up of friends, family, neighbours, community groups and work colleagues who all make a huge contribution to my life. They are my back up.

I have worked for Age UK Doncaster for over a year and this experience has brought home to me that not everyone has back up. Not everyone has other countries connected to them and many people, especially older people, are living as isolated islands.

Older people are particularly vulnerable to social isolation. There are many paths that lead to this; a friend moves away; a partner dies; the onset of a restrictive chronic illness or disability. Before they know it their social circle, the one they relied on for years, ceases to exist.

Social isolation is a growing problem among older people both nationally and within Doncaster. Rupert Suckling, Director of Public Health for Doncaster Council states, “Social isolation is a significant problem locally and the increase in the older population means that the small number of befriending type services are overwhelmed”.

Lacking social connections has a risk factor for early death that is comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day *. In contrast, researchers travelling the world to discover the secrets of longevity, highlight that being socially active, having a strong sense of purpose and being an active member of a community add years to lives and increases personal well-being**.

More often than not older people want to be part of the mainland. They want connection. They want significance. They want relationships. But they need support in breaking out of a pattern of isolation and loneliness. This is where Community Circles come in. Traditionally, communities organised themselves to support each other but in contemporary society the way we live and interact has moved away from this model. A community circle solves this by bringing people together who are already in that person’s life and by inviting in new people who can contribute positively to an individual’s life. These contributions can be both practical and social.

The approach to adult social care is changing, moving away from traditional delivery models, which treats individuals as passive recipients of services and towards a community-led approach, allowing people to make choices about their own lives and the type of support they need.

Community Circles is leading the way in this cultural shift to a person-centred, outcome-focused way of working. Being a new member of Community Circles, these last few weeks of learning and training have been really refreshing and exciting. I have particularly enjoyed sharing and developing new ideas with like-minded people.

With the support of The Big Lottery Fund, Age UK Doncaster has secured 5 years of funding to develop Community Circles within the borough. Within this time frame we hope to recruit over 370 volunteers who will dedicate a couple of hours each month to facilitate a person’s circle. These circles will enable older people to stay connected in their community and improve their quality of life.

My hope is that over time every older person who wants a circle in Doncaster will have one. I hope that these circles will interconnect, building networks between neighbours. That they will re-connect people, and by keeping people connected, they will help find solutions for each other’s needs; whether it’s re-connecting someone with his or her faith community or spending more time with family and friends.

Eventually, with just a little help from our connectors and facilitators, communities will share skills and support each other. I hope that being alone will not be seen as an inevitable part of growing older, that more people will become continents, so that no man or woman in Doncaster will feel that they have to be an island.

Hannah Short

Community Circles Connector