Friendship group provides 'lifeline' for isolated

time:2023-06-10 22:56:07source:Al Jazeera author:news

A friendship group set up to tackle loneliness and isolation after the pandemic has been described as a "lifeline".

Paddy Donaghy, 62, is one of up to twenty people who meet regularly in Ballymoney, County Antrim.

He says he became isolated last year due to Covid and ill health but decided to join the support network three months ago.

"It's still the only thing I do. I don't go out any other time but I've managed to hang on to sticking to this group and it's made a massive difference.

"It can be a release for when you really need to talk about your problems, or it can be a release where you can forget about them and just have fun."

A report by NISRA, found twenty per cent of people reported feeling lonely 'often' or 'some of the time' in Northern Ireland in 2020/21.

The Ballymoney friendship group was set up in May and meets in a coffee shop every Wednesday and Friday for walks.

Alastair Stewart, 61, has been part of the group for the last seven weeks and says it's a "lifeline".

"To me it's been a wee godsend, for I suffer from different ailments…and the welcome I got was unbelievable.

"I'm an alcoholic and I didn't have friends when I hit the drink," said Mr Stewart.

"My family was very good for me and helped me in every way but still I was lacking something."

"There are maybe some things I keep to myself and don't want to talk about and some of the group have been very helpful.

"Completely strangers is the recipe."

Ciara Forsyth, a Community Navigator with the Building Communities Resource Centre, helped set the group up alongside social workers in the Northern Trust.

"We have people coming because they're lonely or because they weren't sure how to come out again after Covid.

"We have people tired of being alone and ready for a change. We have people who do have mental-health issues, people with mobility issues and we have people from all different ages coming. Our youngest is in their 50s and the oldest is in their 80s with possibly a 90-year-old in there.

"It's just about connecting and that's what we felt was so important, especially after covid when we all had to be locked away.

"To come out and reconnect again…has helped and made a difference to people's well being."

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