A friend in deed

Milena, Manor Gardens

Milena of Manor Garden Centre on helping lonely people through this challenging time of year

Although for many people the December period is a time for family and fun, for others it brings feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can really impact on our mental health. We talk to Milena from the Manor Garden Centre about her work – and how Manor Gardens is helping people with loneliness and stress.

What is your role at Manor Gardens?
I work as a lead project worker for the living well service at Manor Gardens, which supports vulnerable adults with all the things they might need help with: housing benefits, filling out forms, their life situation, their bills, being lonely, putting them in touch with other organisations for specialist help – lots of different things. The services we offer are really based on the person’s needs, which we find out through a one-to-one discussion.

Manor Gardens’ tea and coffee mornings have proved very successful in bringing local people together and reducing isolation. In the new year we hope people can meet face-to-face outside in our lovely garden again and in our new reception area, restrictions permitting.

What is your busiest time of year and why do you think that is?
Winter is certainly the busiest time of year. As it gets cold and dark we get a lot more contact from people who can’t afford to keep their home warm, feed their family or are having other financial difficulties. All of these things bring stress and anxiety and we do what we can to help. Last week we delivered 150 food hampers in Islington.

Loneliness and social isolation is also a very big problem, especially over Christmas. Many of our clients are lonely anyway and Christmas is marketed as a time for family and friends. It’s everywhere you go, so if you don’t have those things in your life it’s a very challenging time of year.

What’s your favourite part of the job?
It’s lovely to see people and organise events. There’s always such a lovely atmosphere. I think this year, because of Covid and the lockdowns, it’s been especially hard and having spent so much time on their own, people are delighted just to see each other.

My job can also be very moving. I remember visiting a lady in her eighties and finding out I was the only person who had visited her in the last month for a chat. She’d seen her carers and doctors, but apart from her TV and the radio she didn’t really have any contact with the outside world. She was just so happy to have a cup of tea and talk. There are lots of people like that, who’ve lost their family or their friends have passed away, so they’re just so happy when someone calls.

In the last year, there have also been many more young people struggling with loneliness. They may use social media, but that comes with its own pressures and it’s not like meeting friends. There’s also much more anxiety about going out, job security and financial struggles. If you have no money, you can’t afford to go out – being social often costs money! Lots of people really need a friendly ear.

What can people do to help?
Staying in touch or making a call to someone you know is on their own is great. You can also make a donation to the Manor Gardens Welfare Trust or, if you want to volunteer for Manor Gardens, look at the volunteer page on our website. We provide befriending for people who are housebound – we used to do home visits, but now with Covid we do this over the phone. A volunteer typically calls someone who is lonely about once a week.

There has been a huge increase in demand for this service over the last year, mostly for elderly people, but it can be any age group. It can be for people who are keeping safe at home, those who are scared to go out, those who have disabilities, basically anyone who is struggling with getting out the house.

Other useful services this Christmas if you’re feeling lonely:

Age UK Islington

Kooth, mental health support for young people

Events in Islington over Christmas

Mental health support in Islington

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