In 2001, I met a man (aged around 65) called Terry who quickly had a profound effect on my personal and work outlook on life. At the time, I was Community Development Worker at Woodley Baptist Church in Berkshire, and a local social worker had asked if we could visit a gentleman as he was in need of company. Our first visit consisted of a brief conversation through the letterbox, with the social worker introducing me to Terry, who refused to open the door to someone he did not know. The second visit was similar but we began to engage in dialogue to the point that on the third visit, we were invited inside!
Despite having been warned about the condition of Terry’s home, I was shocked at what I saw when walking into his lounge for the first time. The whole of the downstairs and upstairs was covered in piles of old newspapers almost to waist height. These piles were each covered in layers of cobwebs which could be peeled away. There was a powerful smell of mustiness and decay and I was immediately struck by a paper calendar on the wall dating back to 1988! I later discovered that the newspapers being stockpiled in the house, also dated back to a similar period which corresponded to a point in Terry’s life when both of his parents died in quick succession. He had quickly spiralled into a period of depression, and since this time had not ventured beyond the end of his road and had also started to hoard various items in every room of the house.
His day to day life was now spent mainly in an armchair listening to Radio 4 and his main form of company was a cockatiel.
I started to visit Terry on a weekly basis and quickly discovered that he was a very intelligent and thoughtful man with well-thought out views about many aspects of life including politics, religion and society in general. He would ask my views about various subjects including faith, but would always insist that he was an atheist! Over the following few years that I knew Terry, it was a privilege to learn more about his life and to understand some of the reasons why his life had almost come to a sad standstill following the death of his parents. It made me question how society in general and also churches and faith groups can reach and respond to people like Terry (of which there will be similar examples in most towns, villages and cities). Whilst in some ways an extreme example of loneliness and social isolation, Terry represents a growing and hidden part of our society which is often forgotten and marginalised.
This experience was one which although not an easy one to manage has remained with me since that time and continued to motivate me to explore ways in which churches can have a positive impact on the lives of isolated older people as well as benefit from the wealth of experience, knowledge, stories and skills that many older people hold.
As a charity, we are committed to developing partnerships with Churches and Christian organisations across the UK and to support the setting up of befriending projects which impacts the lives of people like Terry and many others, and we invite you to join with us in this mission.