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The woman on a mission to tackle elderly loneliness

Words by Smiley Team

In the tight knit community of Longridge, south of the Yorkshire Dales, retired carer Susan Reid is on a one-woman mission to tackle loneliness among elderly people.

Susan first entered care work when an elderly man asked her if she would look after him. She’d just received an exciting new job offer, but turned it down to help him enjoy the two years he had left to live instead.

“We did all sorts in those two years,” she recalls, with tears welling up in her eyes. “We’d go everywhere. I’d take him to the beach, we’d have a picnic or go to the cinema together.”

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Eventually he passed away, but Susan knew she’d helped him make the most of his last moments. “That's when I decided to stick with care work because I was good at it and could make a difference to people's lives,” she says.

Helping through thick and thin

One day Susan received some terrible news that meant, for once in her life, she had to give up caring for others to focus on herself. Her doctor told her she had cancer and in order to let the treatment run its course, she'd need to take time off work.

To the enormous relief of her family, friends and community, her cancer treatment was successful. At first she thought she could return to her job, but then Covid-19 hit, preventing her from working when she was needed most.

Being well connected among the residents of Longridge, she quickly learned who she could best help. While taking all precautions against spreading the virus, she set about visiting community elders, bringing them groceries, doing household chores and keeping them company. 

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A local hero

Working entirely of her own volition, without any pay or help from organisations, Susan has continued to help her elderly friends ever since. “They'll ring me up to ask when I’m coming to see them,” she says – and she'll quickly respond, offering to chat with them or attend to their needs.

The most vital part of her work is offering social stimulation. Many elderly people experience loneliness with hundreds of thousands across the UK cut off from others, a situation which worsened during the pandemic.

But at least in Longridge, Susan’s work tackles this issue. The best part of it, she says, is how much laughter she gets out of it through talking to them.

Despite the enormous value of her work and the fact she’s doing it for free, she believes what she’s doing is unexceptional, saying, “I think most people have inherent caring skills, it just depends on what happens in your young life as to whether or not those skills are allowed to blossom.”

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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