TV is not the answer to loneliness, but it can help build connection in disconnecting times
Posted by Alex Smith on 30th July 2020
Two fifths of all older people in, about 3.9 million people in total, say the TV is their main company. It’s a lifeline and a connection, bringing the outside world in for so many people who can struggle to get out.
Speaking to older neighbours across The Cares Family, many of whom have been isolated not just in recent months but over many years, it rapidly becomes apparent just how many people rely on ‘the box’ for company, companionship and even to keep track of the date and time. For those who don't have the internet, TV allows them to stay up to date with what's happening in the world. During the pandemic, it's been vital that older neighbours receive up-to-date information about shielding, leaving their home safely and accessing support – many are only able to access this information through the telly.
This is something The Cares Family has seen first hand. During our recent Winter Wellbeing project, Manchester Cares met Maureen* while out door-knocking in the community. Maureen was very upset and opened up to the team about worries she had. One was her television. It had terrible signal and a blurry picture, but she kept it on every day, and in the evening. When we asked why, Maureen said: “housing haven’t been able to fix it yet, but I keep it on for the noise in the background. It keeps me company when I’m trying to sleep”.
Half of all people over 75s are living with a disability, and many rely on their TV. They're people like Prudence, who's friends with Laura through our Love Your Neighbour programme. The two share weekly natters, and although their friendship is important in both their lives, Prudence remains housebound and can’t get out without assistance. She told us: “I’m stuck inside. When I have the telly, I watch and I laugh and it keeps me alive.”
Across The Cares Family, our job is to encourage and foster various types of connection between younger and older neighbours. We help people across the generations to build new friendships. These relationships are valuable in themselves, as they help people share time, laughter and meaning. They're also valuable because they help open up new (and old) spaces and places in rapidly changing neighbourhoods.
But the telly remains crucial in so many lives – older and younger people's alike. Whether it’s Phone-A-Friend pals chatting about their favourite programmes, watching a classic at Film Night or dreaming up their ideal TV channel together through our Alone Together Activity Packs.
One older neighbour who's part of East London Cares, John, told us how television enhances his in-person relationships: “I speak to my friends who are roughly my age every Saturday about what we’ve watched on television that week, and our favourite actors. We have a laugh about it, and a really good time”.
John also shared how the TV has helped him connect with his younger neighbours too, including through Phone-A-Friend: “The television is a great way to bond and communicate with others – you can get an idea of other people and what they like. Georgia and I talk about our favourite TV shows and things I’ve recommended to her. We have great conversations about it."
With the introduction of paid TV licences for many people over 75, part of our job across The Cares Family will be to help people who remain eligible to access their free licences. Two fifths of people who are entitled to this benefit through pension credit – an estimated 1.2 million pensioners in the UK in total – aren't currently receiving it.
But while we know the TV is vital in forming connection in our disconnected age, we also know it is not the ultimate solution to loneliness. That solution will ultimately come through building a nation of neighbours who better look out for one another – people with people, in places that matter. That's our mission – to help everyone find connection in disconnecting times. If you'd like to help The Cares Family to help our community forge those all important connections – to the people and places around them – please donate here.
*Name changed to protect identity.