Just Company - two women from Kirkby Lonsdale are helping combat loneliness
PUBLISHED: 00:00 28 April 2020
Isolation is the norm for thousands of older people but two women from Kirkby Lonsdale are helping them combat the loneliness
The Covid-19 outbreak has meant isolation for us all; a period of enforced solitude away from friends, family and work colleagues.
It has brought changes to our routines and habits and, whether we have been directly affected by the virus or not, life has been made more difficult as everyday tasks such as working, shopping, childcare and exercise have become a challenge.
For most, it is a temporary inconvenience but for some people, the isolation will not end when the virus dies away.
Once offices, shops and businesses start to re-open and staff return to work and some form of normality, many members of our communities will still be alone and cut off from society.
But two women from Kirkby Lonsdale are helping to overcome the loneliness many older people across Lancashire and the Lake District have come to regard as normal.
Fran Franklin and Vivienne Pike both know what it’s like to have family members who have become increasingly isolated. And that’s what led them to launch Just Company, which aims to give lonely older people some companionship and days out.
Fran was brought up mostly by her much-loved Aunt Gilly, a potter who lived on a narrowboat at Glasson Dock, near Lancaster.
‘At 74 she was vibrant and engaged with her community but a fall and major surgery led to her moving away,’ Fran says. ‘I couldn’t see her as often as I wanted and she stayed at home watching television, growing increasingly isolated and depressed.
‘I hated the fact that her days now comprised TV and hospital appointments. I looked for a companion who would take her out, to indulge her in the things that she loved, but found nothing.’
Meanwhile Vivienne’s parents, who lived many miles away from her home in Kirkby Lonsdale, were also struggling. ‘My mother needed respite from caring for my father who had dementia. Previously they had done everything together. The prospect of doing things like going to the theatre alone was overwhelming for her. She needed someone trustworthy to accompany her and share the enjoyment. We needed “just company” but there was no one who provided this specialised service.’
According to Age UK around 1.4 million older people in England are classed as chronically lonely, with many more across the country as a whole.
Fran, who worked in the public health sector for many years, realised there was a gap in the market for a high-quality service whereby trustworthy companions would take older relatives out for activities and wonderful experiences. She approached Vivienne, who had been a senior account manager with Lloyds Bank, with her business idea. They discovered they had a shared vision and complementary skills.
Just Company was launched in May 2017. Their first client was an elderly lady who had moved north from Surrey.
‘She had been uprooted from everything that she knew but through going out with us she’s come to love our region,’ says Vivienne. ‘Our service also provides much reassurance for her family.’
Just Company now has around 15 regular clients who have, on average, around three hours each per week with their companion.
Activities include trips on the steam yacht at Coniston, outings to Williamson Park in Lancaster, to Sizergh Castle, The Lowry, birdwatching at RSPB Leighton Moss, a drive through bluebell woods or simply lounging on the beach.
And since the Covid-19 outbreak they have been delivering food, supplies and medication to clients and maintaining contact with those in lockdown over the phone and through social media.
‘We always work to infection control protocols. We never visit clients if we have a cold or have been at risk of one. Right now our companions are continually checking in with clients and their families and we maintain contact with those in lockdown via the phone or social media. We’re also bringing food, supplies and medication to them.’
Several solicitors’ firms across the region are supportive, including Lancaster lawyer and TV regular, Gary Rycroft, Senior Partner at Joseph A. Jones & Co, who is a trustee of Blackpool-based charity The Silver Line which provides a free national 24 hour helpline for older people.
He says: ‘There is an incredible need for a high quality service like Just Company where I can be totally confident the elderly clients I look after are in safe hands. Many older people do not speak to anyone from day to day.
‘The death of partners and friends, retirement, as well as physical impediments can make a person’s world shrink. This is why companionship, whether it is free as offered by The Silver Line, or paid for as offered by Just Company, is to be welcomed.’
To find out more go to justcompany.co.uk.