Write way to combat loneliness

Creative communication boosts memory, says community group

Friday, 3rd December 2021 — By Anna Lamche

Rory Cleary Ngoma Bishop Tim Bleach

From left, Rory Cleary, Ngoma Bishop and Tim Bleach

A COMMUNITY group has found a creative way to tackle loneliness among older people.

The Hillrise Elders Writing Group (HEWG), based in Hornsey Rise, is a free writers’ group for those aged 60 and above.

Run by writer and community activist Ngoma Bishop, HEWG uses creative writing as a medium to forge new friendships among isolated older ­people.

The writing group meets for two hours every Wednesday. Participants have the opportunity to share their work or just read the work of others.

“People come to it for different reasons. Sometimes the writing is the draw, but some people don’t want to be plunged headlong into it, and that’s fine,” Mr Bishop said.

Since joining, some participants have reported feeling more clear-headed. “It’s no exaggeration to say that the group members have found [writing] keeps their mind sharp. But not just that,” Mr Bishop said.

“An extraordinary thing starts to happen: not only are some indicating that their memory is better than previously, but in fact, they are remembering more things. Before, people would struggle to remember the most basic things.”

HEWG began about four years ago after it received some government funding. When the money ran out, Mr Bishop continued running the workshops unpaid.

More recently the group has been awarded enough money to produce an anthology and run 20 fully funded sessions.

The grant comes from Hornsey Lane Estate Community Association (HLECA) and Islington Council.

Tim Bleach, 77, one of the group’s core members, said: “I certainly think being encouraged to write gives me a sense of strong human community, bordering, you might say, on family.

“My nearest family is my brother and his daughter but they don’t live in London. We communicate by phone, but a group like this is ideal for someone like me.”

According to Age UK, more than two million people in England over the age of 75 live alone. Over a million older people say they go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member.

“It always has a positive impact on me,” Mr Bleach said. “I sometimes phone Ngoma, I know that’s one social contact that is more than just Wednesday.”

The group is currently seeking new members to join them in January.

Mr Bleach said: “I would say if you enjoy reading and writing, or perhaps you enjoy reading but haven’t tried writing yet, this group is a good place to test the water.

“And you don’t have to go in more than up to your ankles if you don’t want to.”

• To join the group, call Rory on 07377 002 066.

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