“Over half of people aged 70+ live alone in the UK; over 5 million of these people say that television is their main form of company.” Age UK
To be exposed to statistics like this evokes feelings of despondency and discomfort – but these fade in time. To see a statistic in human form, to see the seclusion and suffering, that’s when a problem truly hits home.
I’ve always been conscious of society’s problems, but it is only recently – working in an active age centre in Kingston – that I’ve realised the importance of gaining first hand frontline experience.
Arriving at the centre I was overwhelmed by the warmth and life of the place, and amazed at the interest the members took in me. People I had never met thrived on finding out what I’d learnt, what I’d read, where I’d travelled and how I conducted my love life. For every story I told, a comfortingly similar experience would be relayed back – set in a different time period and bound by different social norms. There was a reassurance of humanity in the sharing of our life experiences, which the generations between us made all the more beautiful.
Frontline insights come from other, less heart-lifting moments, too. A few weeks ago, stood face to face with palpable vulnerability, I was forced to question my own understanding of the term ‘vulnerable people’. A woman appeared at the centre, desperately confused as she wandered through the working kitchen door. She couldn’t remember how she had got there or, for that matter, why. Her valuables were on display to the public. I took her back to her flat, where the TV was on and ashtray after ashtray sat full to the brim with smoked cigarettes, and others that had just been left to burn out. I looked around for a smoke alarm, and was relieved to find an old one that just worked. I couldn’t help but wonder: what if it didn’t?
This is the real meaning of vulnerability: a life in which the slip of a burning cigarette could prove fatal. Seeing the reality of ageing and of isolation was deeply moving, powerful and motivating in ways that statistics can never be. For me, that is the true value of insight.
For the link to the ‘host a Fellow’ page of the website Year Here please go to: http://yearhere.org/hostafellow/ .