Ian, 42, is from Rochford, Essex, and has Usher syndrome. His work as a photographer came to a complete stop during the pandemic, leaving him more isolated.
My name is Ian, I’m a photographer from Rochford, Essex, and I have Usher syndrome. This is a progressive condition which causes deafness and gradual sight loss.
I’ve experienced loneliness throughout my life, but the pandemic has magnified my sense of isolation. I live alone with my cat, Teddy, who has been a “saviour” for me in these difficult times.
The pandemic made me feel absolutely petrified because I’ve spent years living an isolated life, knowing what it can to you and your mental health. Loneliness affects everything – you stop functioning as a human being.
My photography work came to a complete stop due to the pandemic, which has further increased my sense of isolation.
The only time I go out is for essential shopping. I don’t have a set routine anymore and I’m not seeing people regularly. When you’re blind, you live a very isolated lifestyle already, so being able to go out and meet other people is essential to your connection.
I believe that raising greater awareness about disability and improving accessibility will help to create a more inclusive society where disabled people feel less lonely.
Despite all the struggles of the last year, I’m feeling hopeful about the future and looking forward to connecting with others again. I’m drawing from my past experience with isolation to get through this pandemic. I’m taking each day as it comes and looking ahead to the spring and summer for more light.
This last year has been difficult for so many people around the world. The news has been dominated by coronavirus and it feels like the lockdowns have lasted a lifetime.
However, while the pandemic has raged on, there’s been moments of hope and joy. People have connected in ways that were unimaginable a year ago and we’ve supported each other to find those little moments of happiness.
At Sense, we’ve worked hard to make sure that we’re adapting the way in which we support people with complex disabilities and their families.
Friends reuniting after lockdown
There’s been numerous moments that have challenged us and, on quiet reflection, made us stronger.
After a year of lockdowns, we’d like to celebrate the reunion of two best friends, Asif and Ashton, who have formed a bubble together. Watch the video below to see them meeting again for the first time since lockdown.
Keeping connected during lockdown
Asif and Ashton’s families kept them connected during lockdown with video calls. Their familes have seen the positive impact their friendship has had on their wellbeing. Some of their family members share how happy they are that the friends have been reunited.
Lynn, Ashton’s mum, is pleased the friends can meet in person
“They’ve always been so lovely together. They’re just like two old men. We’ve tried to keep them connected during lockdown with video calls and Ashton would have his ear on my phone. Now Asif is back at Sense, Ashton is full of smiles.
The past year has been very hard. Ashton likes to be doing things. He likes to be out. We go to the park and he likes to throw the ball for the dog. He can’t walk long distances, so we’ll do a walk with the wheelchair. We take drinks and crisps, but he needs to see people.
He’s very tactile and loves hugging. There’s no social distancing with him. That’s been really hard.
We’re lucky that we had an allotment and things to amuse him here. He’s just a very friendly social lad and he does love his best friend.
I love it that Ashton and Asif are back together. I’m overjoyed and he’s just so happy. For me it’s lovely that he’s going somewhere nice and seeing his friends.”
Saima, Asif’s sister, can see how happy he is after lockdown
“For us, the past year we’ve been keeping it really basic. Asif just stayed at home most of the time. There were occasions where he did have Zoom catch ups with a few of his friends but it’s just not the same being in person.
He really misses that independence and that routine. It was a struggle. He really misses just being at Sense and that space where he can be expressive.
Now he’s back, he’s just extremely happy. We understand that he missed going to Sense and Ashton, but we didn’t appreciate to what extent.
When he first went, he came back so happy. When he attended, I remember picking him up and he was so happy to have seen Ashton. I remember seeing him just laughing. As a family, it makes us so happy to see him like this.
When we told him that he was going to get the vaccine, Asif put two and two together and he knew that he’d go back to Sense.
Asif is just a happy young guy. For the family, we’re just so grateful and indebted to Sense for keeping in contact with him.’
Rathin who is 19 was referred by his mother, Roshan, who approached Sense via the Information and Advice service. Rathin had been expressing to his mum that he had been feeling lonely and wanted to connect with people his age and pursue his interests. The Buddying Team met with Rathin at college and he spoke at length about things he enjoyed; specifically busses, travel, cinema but, most importantly, his desire to make some friends outside of his family. Rathin absolutely above all, enjoyed chatting and was hoping to meet someone to support him in navigating teenage anxiety, explore options for his future career, move into adulthood and meet some new people.
Throughout the lockdown, we have all been finding new and interesting ways to connect with one another. Social interaction has been incredibly important for everyone’s mental health, wellbeing and sense of connection. Across the country, the people we support have been finding amazing ways to stay in each other’s lives and supporting each other when loneliness starts setting in.
In 2018 we all became worried about loneliness. It is not a new problem. But last year and thanks to the Jo Cox Commission, the Minister for Loneliness, the Campaign to End Loneliness, the disability sector working together, and countless other organisations, it has become an urgent one. We also have our first Loneliness Strategy. 2019 is the year in which we seek to tackle the loneliness epidemic.
Friends, family, colleagues and celebrities are now all just a click away. Social media and the internet have shrunk the world while growing our circle of contacts. Socialising is a necessary need for humans, and technology has changed the landscape in which it occurs. However, not everyone has access to this broad new horizon and keeping friendships are harder than ever. Loneliness Awareness Week runs from 17 to 21 June and aims to highlight that loneliness is something that affects us all at some point in our lives.
Alison and Kanhai have been friends for well over a decade now, always living relatively close by. Both are deafblind with learning disabilities and both communicate using British Sign Language (BSL). This shared language made their bond stronger as, regardless of what was happening in each other’s lives, they could always talk to each other. They met regularly, ate together, laughed together and on more than one occasion went on holiday together.