£800,000 awarded to initiative that targets loneliness in elderly

FOR years after his wife died he struggled to make it out of his front door and went for days without speaking to another person.

But Ronnie Mitchell has turned the corner with the help of a project that is set to roll out its services across the Capital after a massive funding boost.

The Community Connecting initiative works to combat rising levels of isolation among Edinburgh’s older people by encouraging them to take part in activities such as visiting parks, trips to the local shops, enrolling in art classes and joining lunch clubs.

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Today, Ronnie, 62, regularly makes trips out by himself and says he is much more confident.

Now, thousands more in Edinburgh are to benefit after Community Connecting was yesterday awarded £800,000 by the city council to expand the reach of its work.

Ronnie told the Evening News that the difference made to his life through contact with volunteers was “tremendous”.

The father-of-two from south Edinburgh said: “Since my wife died about seven years ago, I wasn’t really doing anything, just going to shops right next door to get food, cigarettes, newspapers. The rest of the time, if I needed something, I was going on the computer.

“When my wife died, there was no reason to do anything – I was just numb. I just moved from benefit day to benefit day – got my money for a few cans of beer and cigarettes, and just survived.”

Ronnie said he has made big strides towards re-establishing an independent life since meeting Community Connecting workers a year and a half ago.

He said: “I’ve been out to the Bridgend allotments and I’m planning to go to Musselburgh harbour on the bus for a snack and maybe an ice cream.

“Getting out with somebody has really helped as before I did not know if it was something I could do by myself. I have the confidence to go into charity shops and look for CDs and clothes, which I could never do before.”

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Alison McGhee, a Community Connecting support and development worker, said: “Ronnie is more independent than ever now. It’s hard to catch him as he’s always out and about – it’s been a joy to see him going from strength to strength.

“The new funds from the council will make a huge difference as we could not have carried on without them.

“There’s a real need for our services as we’re getting lots of referrals and inquiries.”

City health leader Ricky Henderson said: “Feeling lonely can be a significant issue for older people. [Community Connecting] is a fantastic service.

“It reduces older people’s feeling of loneliness, increases their confidence and gives them a choice of activities. Research also shows that if they lead more active lives then there is less pressure put on more traditional care services.”