One of the 8 main themes of a WHO Age-friendly City is “Social & Community Participation“. There are many activities and campaigns that fall under this heading, but they all have a common goal: ensuring that older citizens are able to actively participate in their society. Lyn Ambrose, Founder of Pets Against Loneliness, tells us how canine companionship is helping to reduce social isolation in North London and how you can get involved.
It’s the first Saturday of the month, and Stoke Newington is just waking up to a sunny summer’s day. But for a group of local volunteers, dogs, owners and guests, it can only mean one thing – a meeting of Pets Against Loneliness (PAL), a group I founded in 2018.
PAL’s mission is to bring together older members of the community with well-behaved dogs and their owners for the purposes of joy and the alleviation of loneliness.
The growth of Pets Against Loneliness – our events and history
Pets Against Loneliness is a group of volunteers based in the London boroughs of Islington and Hackney. We operate free, drop-in tea and coffee mornings once a month at the bright and spacious St. Matthias Halls in Stoke Newington. We are guided by three key values: community, companionship and kindness.
At PAL events, local, friendly, and well-behaved dogs are brought along by their owners, who chat with our older guests about anything and everything. Our older guests can enjoy canine companionship which they may otherwise not be able to access, and in turn the dogs love being fussed over! Our volunteers serve refreshments, and ensure that everyone attending is involved in proceedings. Our venue is fully accessible, and is located close to a number of transport links.
The inspiration to set up Pets Against Loneliness came from my personal experience of living and working around the world. PAL was born from the twin beliefs that older members of the community are often undervalued in our society – which can lead to isolation and feelings of loneliness – and that animal companionship can make a big difference to this.
But PAL also grew in response to the evidence around loneliness and isolation among older people, some of which makes for difficult reading. 1.4 million older people in Britain are described as “chronically lonely”, and there is a link between loneliness and conditions like depression and Alzheimer’s disease. As a NHS research scientist, I know how important this evidence is and I was determined to play my role in doing something about it alongside a team of committed, local volunteers.
Lots of great work to tackle these worrying trends is already happening. Age UK London is campaigning to make London an age-friendly city, and we’re proud to play our part in helping to achieve a laudable goal of increased social and community participation. There’s a way to go, but we at PAL are hopeful that our society can become more connected and less isolated – especially for older people.
“Dogs are great ice breakers”: what our guests say
Guests at Pets Against Loneliness are a diverse group and come from across the Islington and Hackney areas. We strive to provide a safe, comfortable and accessible space for them at all times, and we’re committed to ensuring they feel at home with us.
Some of our guests are happy to tell the world about PAL’s impact on them and their community. Jenni, 70, describes how PAL brings together people who might otherwise not meet.
“On a cold, slushy Saturday morning in March I went to the inaugural meeting of Pets Against Loneliness. It’s a local monthly social meeting aimed at lonely, older people. There was tea and cake, and lots of well-behaved friendly dogs and their equally lovely owners. All were welcoming and kind, and I met people and dogs I would not normally meet. Sounds a bit bonkers, doesn’t it?! But it works. Dogs are great ice breakers!”
And Lou, 71, describes PAL as something that “really is necessary”.
“Saturday mornings are always quiet at home, so this wonderful summer I have been happy to attend the meetings. PAL brings lovely friendly dogs, and many other, perhaps lonely, people…[they] show up with and without dogs to share lovely Saturday mornings. I hope PAL is able to continue because it does a lovely friendly job that really is necessary.”
Our next event will take place on 5th October 2019. You can find out more about Pets Against Loneliness, including the dates of other upcoming events, here.
Readers are encouraged to spread the word about PAL to older family members, friends or neighbours who may enjoy coming along to a PAL event, and to accompany them to their first PAL visit if that would help.
If you would like more information, please contact Lyn through this link.
To learn more about Age UK London’s campaigns to make London an Age Friendly City, head to www.agefriendlylondon.org.uk.