In a typical week, 88-year-old widower Bill Gallacher saw just two people: a nurse twice a day, for 10 minutes at a time, and a friend who popped by when he could with bread and milk.
But now there’s a third: Barbara, a volunteer befriender from the Vintage Vibes project, a new service that offers companionship, reliable support and the chance for over-60s in Edinburgh to be more socially connected.
Saturday is the International Day of Older People, celebrated annually on October 1 to recognise the contributions of older people and to highlight issues that affect their lives, such as isolation and loneliness.
The Vintage Vibes project received £350,000 from the Big Lottery Fund Scotland to give older people like Bill a range of long-term befriending opportunities, ranging from home visiting to friendship groups and days out.
Bill lost his wife to lung cancer in October 2015, two days after his 88th birthday. He nursed her at home in her final days and says a light went out the day he heard her take her last breath. Since then, Bill has lived alone and being housebound, with poor mobility, he feels very isolated.
He said: “My son lives in Hong Kong so I don’t see him much though we are still very close. We do try and Skype but it’s not the same as having someone there with you. I have felt so alone since my wife died.
“Luckily, my son found Vintage Vibes for me and now I have a new friend called Barbara who comes to see me twice a week. She is a breath of fresh air and we chat about everything and anything.
“She tries to coax me out of the house for a walk and on a good day I can get to the end of my road and back. It’s a simple thing but it means so much to me to have someone I can do that short walk with.” Bill added.
Barbara is one of many volunteers at Vintage Vibes who are matched with an older person to give them friendship and companionship.
Bill added: “Barbara is the only person that I can have a meaningful conversation with now. I have a carer who comes to see how I am, but they have no time for a chit-chat and I often find myself counting down to the hours till Barbara comes round.
“She’s a charm. When she comes round I try to hold on to our conversation for as long as I can because I know I’ll be alone again for some time before I see her the following week.
“She has helped me with everything from sorting my garden to showing me how to use the basics of a computer. Without her company and the support of Vintage Vibes, I don’t know what I would do.”
The project is a partnership between LifeCare Edinburgh and the Broomhouse Centre. It was launched in late 2015 with part-funding from the Big Lottery towards the first four years, but plans to become sustainable in the long-term.
Vintage Vibes hopes to plug the gap of a city-wide service that offers longer-term benefits to people seeking better connections. It offers:
- One to one visiting in the home
- One to one visiting outside the home
- Hospital visiting
- Pet visiting/therapy at home/hospice, nursing home
- Family visiting
- Friendship pools
It is one of 734 older people’s projects to share in £45m of Big Lottery Fund cash over the last five years.