Michael Knighton and his late wife Pauline.

Michael Knighton’s wife Pauline passed away from cancer last July. At 85, he is still self-isolating in his Bedfordshire home and says that lockdown has been lonely. Grief can feel disconnecting for many, but at a time when Michael is unable to see his family, lockdown has meant that he is relying more than ever on the community around him.

Before Pauline passed away, the couple were due to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. In Studham, Bedfordshire, Michael has been shielding for 8 weeks. He says he’s “glad she didn’t have to put up with seeing this and being part of it, because she wouldn’t have liked it”.

Regardless, Pauline wouldn’t have worried about the loneliness of lockdown like he has: “she took all that sort of thing in her stride”.

Michael says his wife Pauline wouldn’t have worried about the loneliness of lockdown. 

As well as the fact that Michael is still adjusting to life without his partner, he is forced to spend a prolonged amount of time without visits from his family. However, he is trying to stay positive.

He says that in his village community, “several people have been bringing me stuff. It’s nice that they do that. I’ve got a doctor at the back who works long hours at the hospital and even so, she goes shopping for me every week… then the neighbour across the road, she also does a shop for me, and next door, he pops round every other day and sees if I want anything. So I’m never short of visitors and I’m never short of supplies”.

“Overall the experience has been revealing, and shows how kind people can be when they want to be”

Michael Knighton

He says that overall, he’s been very lucky. “The experience has been revealing, and shows how kind people can be when they want to be”.

Michael Knighton discusses the positive side of his lockdown experience.

Michael also admits that “because I’m in a house that’s got big gardens… I can’t compare to people in terraced houses or in city blocks, that must be absolutely dreadful. I can’t imagine how they’re coping particularly if they’ve got children… from my point of view I’ve got the freedom to move about”.

Michael Knighton at an Afternoon Tea for Pauline’s birthday, 2017.

He also appreciates that he’s had a lot of support from his daughter, who’s been ringing him almost daily. “I really haven’t had time to be that lonely, apart from reading regularly”.

According to charity Marie Curie, for those who are grieving, the added concern self-isolating can intensify emotions.

Liesa Coates, who runs a local Coronavirus Response Group in Michael’s community, agrees. She says while the lockdown was eased last week for thousands of people, the situation for those who are vulnerable hasn’t changed. “Everybody is getting fed up of lockdown, [but] those people that live on their own are probably even more fed up of it, because their only highlight in their week is to see their family.”

Liesa Coates’ advertisement on Facebook, courtesy of Liesa Coates.

Liesa coordinates around 160 volunteers to support 130 vulnerable people in Studham, Kensworth and Whipsnade. Each volunteer is assigned one person in the community who is ‘at-risk’.

“They were asked to phone their assigned person daily, if not daily every other day, so that a rapport could be developed between the two of them, so our vulnerable would feel more comfortable in reaching out for help if they needed it”. As well as phone calls, some volunteers have also offered a paper round, and to collect prescriptions for shielding residents.

“We are an ageing population in these villages” she says, “and the vulnerable that are living here tend to have lived here for years… They are the very essence of this community”.

“The biggest problem is that people are lonely”

Liesa Coates

Liesa also operates Studham’s “Good Neighbours” scheme, which has been running for some years to support residents with whatever help they might need. In her experience, “the biggest problem is that people are lonely”.

Liesa says that loneliness is the biggest problem for vulnerable people. 

A couple of weeks ago, volunteers from the villages’ Coronavirus Response Group reported back on the tasks they had completed for people in the community. Over 800 tasks were reported. The real bonus for Liesa though, is that for many people, “real friendships have developed between those that are volunteering and their person that they’ve been assigned to”.

In the village, there are several residents in similar positions to Michael. When a partner dies, household tasks like internet banking or turning the washing machine on become new challenges. Facing this alone in lockdown can be a great source of anxiety.

Liesa describes the struggles of being older, vulnerable and recently bereaved for people in Studham community. 

Liesa argues that “our elderly population are fiercely independent”. However, “they can’t do what they used to do.” So, in that sense, “a service like this is absolutely crucial – but not just during this emergency. As we lift out of this situation, I’m really hoping that the community bond will be so much stronger, which is absolutely key”

Michael has noticed this increase in community spirit. He says that when he looks down the street, he can see people stopping and talking over the road to each other. “6 months ago, they would no more have done that than fly in the air; they’re now communicating in a way they’ve not done for the last 33 years I’ve lived here.”

While vulnerable residents might prefer their independence, the response to the Studham, Kensworth and Whipsnade Coronavirus Response Group’s support has been widely positive. This atmosphere is something Michael says he is grateful for at the moment.

If you are in a similar position to Michael and have recently lost someone, there are various support networks available.

The Marie Curie website is offering tips for coping. These include trying to stay connected online, and regular exercise. You can call their support line: 0800 090 2309.

Mind, the Mental Health charity support line: 0300 123 3393

Cruse Bereavement Care support line: 0808 808 1677