From Zumba to singing: combatting loneliness amongst older people

Monday morning and it’s a Zumba class for the over 50s at St Stephen’s Church, Westminster. This class is part of St Stephen’s Second Half Club, a weekly day of classes that looks to build community, keep people active in mind, body and spirit, and ultimately combat social isolation. St Stephen’s is one of two London churches, the other being St Paul’s, North Marylebone running a pilot of this programme.

It is well-known that loneliness is a serious concern, with over half of adults in England saying they experience feelings of loneliness.

Although there are many different ways Anglican churches are addressing loneliness in their communities, what is truly exciting about the Second Half Clubs is the partnership that they can create with other organisations looking to achieve the same goals.

Zumba and singing classes at both St Stephen’s and St Paul’s are organised by Open Age, a London-based charity that provides a wide range of physical, creative and mentally stimulating activities to enable older people to develop new skills, fulfil their potential and make new friends.

Barclays Digital Eagles provide a tech class for participants to build their confidence when using computers, mobile devices and the internet. In addition to classes taught by partner organisations, each parish works with members of its own congregation to deliver classes for the club. New to this semester at St Stephen’s is Astronomy class, led by a local teacher from Westminster School.

The Revd Clare Dowding (Rector of St Paul’s) said: “The Second Half Club and Open Age classes have worked well with our mission to serve the parish of North Marylebone.

“We have an open door to the community and we have seen healthy development from accessing classes, to deeper involvement in the life of the church and, for some, attendance at worship.”

Key to the success of these clubs is the partnership with the Second Half Foundation led by Lady Jill Shaw Ruddock CBE. The foundation serves anyone affected by isolation by providing a place to develop more meaningful connections and to continue to learn and grow.

For Catherine Duce (Curate at St Stephen’s Rochester Row), “The Second Half Club has reached out to people living in our parish who would otherwise not step into our building. We are not simply offering a building space. We offer a human face to the church – offering teas and coffees throughout the day and a listening ear to all participants at the classes.”

By its development of key partnerships this model will be easily replicable as The Second Half Foundation expands throughout Westminster and then Hammersmith and Fulham. Along with the Diocese of London and other project partners, the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division are excited to see how this programme continues to advance, tackling the growing problem of social isolation, providing a safe space to learn, love and laugh.

Should any parishes throughout the Diocese of London be interested in hosting their own Second Half Club, please get in touch with Diane Herlinger at the Second Half Foundation at Tel 07709544665.

Joseph Friedrich, Fundraising and Development Officer, Cathedral and Church Buildings Division, the Archbishops’ Council.

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