Even in Brighton – a city famed for celebrating and embracing the differences that bring people together from different backgrounds – social isolation is a real problem.
Since the start of the year, I’ve been working with Casserole Club, a project connecting people happy to share an extra portion of home-cooked food with a neighbour who could benefit from a meal and a friendly chat. It’s really opened my eyes to the issue of social isolation – and how easily some of the loneliness, depression and other negative impacts that stems from it can be combatted by a simple matchmaking process.
Take the pairing of Charlotte and Doris. Charlotte signed up as a cook when the programme was first set up in Brighton. She was matched to Doris, who lives alone and is housebound. The two immediately hit it off and it wasn’t long before weekly visits and phone calls became frequent for these two neighbours.
Whilst they enjoy chatting to each other over a cup of tea, Charlotte has also provided vital help with shopping and household tasks such as taking out rubbish. She lobbied on Doris’s behalf when companies were grossly overcharging her on utilities, successfully lowering her monthly outgoings and securing a refund for her.
Over Christmas they shared more food and presents, and Doris got to meet more of Charlotte’s family. Doris received a lovely tablecloth from Charlotte’s mum. She has already bought Easter eggs for Charlotte’s children.
We know that social isolation and loneliness can contribute to a lowered sense of wellbeing and can lead to anxiety and depression. Casserole Club really does help to combat this. Other diners and cooks have shared similar experiences to Charlotte and Doris, enjoying real connections and developing deep friendships.
Brenda and Debbie (pictured) are another fantastic match. ‘“I look forward to seeing Debbie every Wednesday. It’s a chance to have something homemade and different,” says Brenda.
Just read some of the other lovely comments from Casserole Club diners I’ve heard during my short time on the project:
“I thought for years that no one cared about me … it’s so good to know that so many people care.’
“Every meal is piping hot and lovely.”
“She spoils me. The other day she brought over some cakes that she had made that didn’t contain dairy and they were lovely.”
“Oh I love it when [cook] comes over. She brings the food with her and then she stays the whole afternoon and we talk about her job. It’s the same job I used to do!”
Social isolation can stem from physical ill health, mobility issues, mental illness, the death of a spouse, family moving away, reduced public transport and so much more. In short, it could happen to any of us.
Of the 121,540 households in Brighton and Hove, around 14,500 are occupied by people over the age of 65 who live alone, factors that can lead to feelings of loneliness and can potentially lead to mental health illnesses such as anxiety or depression.
Making a match
Casserole Club cooks and diners look forward to their time together and both partners in the match benefit from an improved sense of wellbeing. We usually find diners through referrals from friends and family, or from local organisations that we work with such as the Neighbourhood Care Scheme.
After taking a few details from the diner, we hope to make a match with a cook as quickly as possible. However, as we try to ensure that the two people have common interests, enjoy the same foods and, importantly, live close to each other, it can take several weeks. Keeping things local is especially important as it makes things more convenient for our cooks and provides more opportunity for a relationship to develop.