Author: Dominic Lodge
I remember some years ago supporting a gentleman to move into his new flat. It was for me a happy day, a culmination of many months effort to secure accommodation, a tenancy and a new life for him. For a number of years he lived with a group of men in a large residential care home and sort of enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the place. For many more years he had a bed in a dormitory of a large hospital and sort of survived mainly through a few friendships and ‘odd jobs’ around the place.
Three months later I went round to visit him in his flat. Rather than finding a man settled and positive I found someone restless and disorientated. The key that I gave him to open the front door of his flat three months ago had instead opened a door to loneliness. I tried to console him by saying that in time all would be well. In reality I was trying to console my own ego. I had got it wrong.
In June 2014 the Office for National Statistics stated that Britain ‘was the loneliness capital of Europe’. 11% of our population say that they are lonely most of the time and do not want to impose upon their neighbours. There is even an organisation that campaigns to end loneliness and to further connections for older people. In its literature the organisation exhorts people to meet the lonely on their terms and to find out their interests. We might conclude that this is obvious but the irony was not lost on me. If I had listened carefully to the man I ‘moved’ I would have understood the paradox that independence and freedom may also bring fear, uncertainty and enslavement within four walls.
The word and notion of independence is much misused and bandied about in social care circles. It is a kind of rallying cry, a totem to gather around and proclaim that all those people in care need our efforts to secure a life of quasi control or, goodness me, abandonment because they no longer meet the criteria for funding support. Wear your new found independence as an amulet and all will be okay.
Yet, I cannot ever say that I have been truly independent. I thrive in being in love with my wife, being a father, in a family, having friendships and a lively associational life. I am truly an interdependent person.
If I as an individual should thrive in relationships and friendships why do I assume that someone with a learning disability would do just fine in isolation? It is, of course, not how I feel nor is it the belief of many others who have the joy of serving people who require a bit of support to get by. It is just at times we can be seduced into the world of independence without paying due attention to citizenship and the sharing of who we are – our gifts and the capacity to reciprocate and enjoy the friendship of others.
Best Buddies United Kingdom was founded in June 2014 by a group of friends and associates with a common cause. We are passionate people – passionate about the goodness, reciprocity and decency found in communities throughout the Country that enable interdependency and friendship to flourish.
Best Buddies United Kingdom is a volunteer movement. It is affiliated to Best Buddies International, a worldwide movement of some 900,000 people with and without disabilities who enjoy each other’s company. In the UK we have a number of burgeoning groups excited about the present, of starting up networks and a future that promises the possibility and opportunity for enduring friendships.
In all four Countries of the United Kingdom we have a Best Buddies group. From Edinburgh to Portsmouth, from Ballymoney to Monmouth to Cambridge people freely give of their time to celebrate something ordinary – togetherness.
Here in the south we have called ourselves Best Buddies Solent. With support from the Wessex Academic Health Science Network and in collaboration with hosts TQ21 (social care arm of Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust) and the Cathedral Innovation Centre, Best Buddies Solent will officially launch this September (2015) in a community café on Southsea Sea front.
Coffee and cake will just be the start of the recipe for lifelong friendship.
To find out more about all of the Best Buddies UK projects visit: http://bestbuddiesuk.org/uk-projects/
The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.
Coffee, Cake and the Recipe for Friendship © Dominic Lodge 2015.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.
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