Mycenae House in Blackheath is not your typical historic property surrounded by beautiful gardens. Under the management of Vanbrugh Community Association, regular community activities are run there, including several Reach Out Projects which aim to support vulnerable and isolated people in the community, writes Holly O’Mahony…

The team of Reach Out Project workers run a drop-in café for seniors every Thursday afternoon, through which the ‘knitting nanas’ was born. The group knitted items in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society and took part in Dementia Action Week. Working in partnership with Age UK, the Reach Out Project also ran an initiative called ‘Men in Sheds’, bringing together men over 50 to make small wooden items for the community. Then there’s ‘It Takes 2′, a scheme aiming to help those with learning disabilities connect with others in the community around shared interests.

Meanwhile, a new choir aimed at adults with learning difficulties and physical disabilities will hold its first session on March 6.

One new initiative already up-and-running at Mycenae House is particularly interesting: called ‘Shh….Don’t be Lonely’, the project has been designed to tackle isolation in younger people. The fortnightly sessions take place on Tuesday evenings, are free to attend and operate on a drop-in basis. “There’s a common stereotype that loneliness mainly affects older people – and of course it can, and does. But also there are several reasons why younger people might feel lonelier,” points out Deborah Fitzpatrick, a community outreach worker who runs the Reach Out Project at Mycenae House.

“The years between 16 and 24 are often a time of transition where people move home, build their identities and try to find new friends. These sudden and often enforced life changes can have a massive impact on younger people.”

Deborah believes that between technology replacing human interaction, heavier workloads and less socialising, many young people are finding it harder to make friends. “We are living through an epidemic of loneliness which has a major impact on our eating habits, alcohol consumption and mental health,” she says. “I believe becoming part of a group may give people a stronger sense of purpose and security, as well as providing support when times are difficult.”

The Reach Out Project team at Mycenae House had traditionally focused their energies on tackling isolation among senior citizens and those with disabilities. The ‘Shh….Don’t be Lonely’ project came about following a request from a member of the community asking if a similar initiative could be set up for younger people.

“Admitting you are lonely isn’t easy, especially when we are supposedly living in an age where we are more connected than ever,” points out Deborah. “But in fact, many recent surveys point to loneliness and social isolation growing across all age groups, not just seniors.”

As well as providing young people with a supportive setting in which to form friendships with like-minded people, the project hosts regular guest speakers to shine the light on the full spectrum of issues surrounding loneliness and social isolation, in the hope it’ll provide guidance for those experiencing it. The team are also able to recommend other organisations to anyone who attends the sessions and raises issues that can’t be dealt with at the time.

So far, the sessions have been particularly popular with those who are new to the area, those who work from home and those who are not in contact with family or friends, but Deborah stresses that the sessions are open for all to attend. “You are very welcome to join even if you are not lonely right now, because someone attending could really do with your friendship and company,” she says.

“We have had a great response to the ‘Shh….Don’t be Lonely’ sessions. Numbers are growing, and we want our community to shout about this group and let people know about it,” says Deborah, adding that the more who know about the project, the more people it can help.

“People do find it hard to walk through the door for their first session, we won’t deny that, but there is always a friendly face to help you settle in and you won’t be alone,” she adds. “We all understand this isn’t easy, especially if you have ever experienced social anxiety or nervousness with meeting new people in unfamiliar surroundings. But again, you are definitely not alone, having any or all of these reservations is quite normal.”

For Deborah, the best thing about being a community outreach worker is seeing the people who attend the projects grow with confidence. “It’s just wonderful to see the progress in people. I’ve particularly enjoyed seeing those who are shy and helping them to flourish and feel confident,” she says. “We believe with the right setting and people, friendships can flourish. If you’re lonely, we’d like to hope Mycenae House in Blackheath could become your home from home.”

‘Shh….Don’t be Lonely’ sessions at Mycenae House are free to attend and operate on a drop-in basis, but it’s asked that you confirm ahead via the website or by calling 0208 858 1749 when possible.

Mycenae House,
90 Mycenae Road,
London SE3 7SE.
Fortnightly on Tuesdays,
from 7:30pm – 9pm.