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Guest Blog: The Loneliness of Spies and Our Own Personal Seclusion. By Yvette De Sylva

Posted on 14 April 2018

In 1944 Eileen Nearne worked for the British Secret Service. She was a spy during WW2 and was captured by the SS and Gestapo. She escaped with two young French women also spying for their country. At the age of 89, this adventurer of derring-do, this woman who risked her life for queen and country, died alone. She had no known family so her funeral was organised by the Torbay council and attended by only the funeral staff….. as part of their employment.

We don’t often hear of spies or their lives or even deaths. These are secret things. Things to remain unspoken. Neither do we hear, read or talk much about dying or even living with a great sense aloneness. Existing for a length of time in a vacuum of singularity without anyone or anything to puncture the void.

The elderly are the most recognised demographic when reference is made to isolation and loneliness. However, studies show there are a variety of reasons why many people from various social groups can spend their day-to-day existences feeling isolated and unnurtured; in 2015 the NSPCC identified a 9% increase in counselling for children and teenagers. At that age it is important to be able to identify with a group or cultural system as part of developing identity. Many young people report a sense of isolation because they lack a sense of belonging, feel unpopular, inferior or misunderstood. At times we all feel like this. We feel alone, friendless and unloved. Some of us actually are.

But it is very difficult to pin down the exact causes of loneliness because it is such a complex issue. Whilst age is top of the list there are a host of other reasons why people end up isolated and unable to connect with their wider community.

There are social factors that include:

• Whether we have a partner or are married.

• Ethnicity (where language barriers, cultural or religious differences prevent connection).

• Low income (where lack of money means we simply cannot afford a coffee and chat).

• Physical and mental health (where fire-fighting health leaves no time or energy for socialising).

There are environmental factors that include:

• Poor transport links (where people are unable to get out and about easily, access jobs or socialise, due to lack of decent public or private transport).

• The area in which a person lives (not all built environments allow easy access to social spaces or local amenities, including health and community centres).

• Safe outdoor spaces (where suitable walkways, lighting and neighbourhood safety schemes are lacking, causing people to feel unsafe to leave their homes).

In January 2018 Teresa May acknowledged that “For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life” and has devised a public policy to respond to the UK’s loneliness crisis. May has promised that her government will fund charitable trusts and organisations to tackle loneliness in all areas of the community. Government will also lend monies to groups that can demonstrate the successful development of activities aimed at connecting people. Most significantly there is to be an increase in established practices, groups and activities ‘…that offer practical and emotional support to help lonely individuals reconnect with their communities’.

But is this enough to remedy what has, in such a short period of time, become a social crisis? Maybe what is needed in the first instance is financial security and stability. To feel ‘strong and stable’. To know that the rent and bills can be paid; to be able to buy healthy food and have some change for lunch with friends, the occasional trip out with or without children (including spends for a babysitter and a taxi if necessary) or an every-so-often night out to the theatre or cinema.

Not having enough money to cover the most basic of needs is an all too familiar struggle and one that is known to be a major cause of stress and personal and interpersonal breakdown. Perhaps having access to local social groups and reliable public or private transport might encourage us to leave the comfort of our living rooms and explore our environs. Perhaps clean, safe and accessible local recreational areas allowing us to get outside, catch some rays, play with our children or just greet others. This is empowering. It engenders a feeling of community; to be able to arrange meet-ups with the neighbours, friends and family and invite those living invisibly in our locale to participate would do wonders for mental wellbeing and include those so desperate to belong and be seen.

Investment in a local and national community infrastructure could be part of the solution: the return of youth clubs, community centres and network clubs; groups and classes designed to bring people together. Such places were once the buttresses of the 70s and 80s social framework where people could connect, share news, skills and experiences and feel like they belonged to something meaningful.

Maybe a change in social attitude is also key to overcoming loneliness. We Brits are renowned for our stiff upper lip and reticence to ask for help or ‘get involved’. An honest appraisal of how we interact with each other could be the order of the day; being willing to help each other. Start a conversation. Even just smiling when we make eye contact can make someone’s day. Maybe we need to be building pathways to ensure we help and support one another to survive and thrive.


Open Learn: Contructs of childhood in the past :

Statues of men on top of bbc….suicide

Project 84:

Percentage of loneliness

WW2 Letters of loneliness:

GVT to tackle loneliness:

Jo Cox Loneliness Foundation:

Health Issues & Loneliness:

 Gardian Articles on austerity and social impacts