Nigel Flynn, Peer Volunteer, ONSIDE Project
Once upon a time … when I still worked in the public sector, there was a much-used phrase, “social depravation”. I remember having to explain to one lady from Ballymoney who didn’t appreciate her community being labelled as “depraved” that social deprivation was just a fancy word for “poverty”. Similarly, I think “social isolation” is just today’s fancy word for “lonely”.
Two years have passed since the U.K. announced the appointment of the Minister of Loneliness — an appointment born from a 2017 report that said nine million of the country’s 67 million people feel lonely some or all of the time.
The current Minister is called Nigel Huddleston. Ever heard of him? He is the minister responsible for the tackling loneliness agenda, as part of his wider portfolio as the Minister for Sport, Tourism, Heritage and Civil Society.
If I might quote from the original ONSIDE blog post by Orla McCann:
“Perhaps the only silver lining of the last two years is that policy makers, Government departments and the public have a better idea of what the disabled community lives with daily”.
During “lockdown”, I couldn’t go out especially to the pub, where I like to go for some chat and a couple of pints of Guinness. It’s quite a normal thing to do and I enjoy the company as much as I enjoy the black stuff.
Despite the religious zealots of my hometown, Ballymena, regarding “the Devil’s buttermilk” as the road to ruin and moral depravity, it still seems acceptable to consider a pint of Guinness to be an iconic symbol of this wee Island just as much as it’s seems acceptable to still drink in the ‘Rover’s Return’ or the ‘Queen Vic’.
So as a person with an acquired disability just trying to get on with the ‘new normal’ (whatever that is!) I like to go out and I deal with my “social isolation” by going to the pub.
I always argue that most people need to get out more. As soon as you stop going out and having new experiences, you start to fade away, or to put it in “harsher” terms ‘When you stop living, you start dying’.
So my advice to the Minister for Loneliness and everyone else, is …get yourself out of the house and drink some stout.
Having completed the ONSIDE project himself, Nigel is now a Peer Volunteer with ONSIDE supporting new participants through their digital training.