We’ve been talking to lots of different people as we create Learning Disability England and one of the things that people are saying they’re worried about is loneliness. Loneliness can be a disability in itself.
Loneliness is something that I have experienced. Even though I used to be married I lived in a place called Worstead which was a very small village. The nearest shops were about ten miles away. I was lonely and didn’t have a job, I had to rely on my wife at the time for getting out and about.
Like me other people with learning disabilities have to rely on other people to get out and about. If you haven’t got any services around you it can be very difficult. If you can only go out to the shops about once a week that’s really difficult. Public transport is essential.
This has a mental effect on you. It’s hard to explain but unless you have people and services around you this will make you become isolated.
Isolated is when you are far away from other people.
One of the reasons people can feel lonely is if they are in rural areas.
It’s really important not to forget about people living in rural parts of England. It’s important for people with learning disabilities because if you live in a rural area you might be a long way from a self-advocacy group and there may be very few other people living in that area. You don’t often get a chance to meet one another. And public transport is very difficult, especially if a bus comes only once or twice a day.
All of this means you don’t have a proper social life. It’s difficult to meet people and it takes time to make friends.
Some things you could do to make people feel less lonely is to give people a chance to meet socially. They also need to be able to get out and about from where they live – not stay in the same place all the time. For this to happen they need public transport, organised trips and good support. Everyone’s different so the support will be different.
I think self-advocacy groups are really important in rural areas and they need good support as well. I had to set up Norfolk’s first Self Advocacy group (People First Norfolk) now called Opening Doors. I also set up Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People. There was nothing and now they thriving.
Local authorities need to do something about loneliness. Also social services and big charitable organisations. They all need to work together to come up with the solution.
Loneliness can be a killer and action needs to be taken.