Meet the 85-year-old and a 31-year-old living together as part of an innovative scheme

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In a world where loneliness and isolation seep into the lives of many, an innovative scheme is bringing together older people with those seeking accommodation. Here, Kathryn Wheeler meets a household who made the move, to find out why it works for them

Meet the 85-year-old and a 31-year-old living together as part of an innovative scheme

On an extraordinarily cold Thursday evening, I park my car outside a home on the outskirts of Oxford. I’m here to meet with Mary, 85, and Alex, 31, two people taking part in Age UK Oxfordshire’s Homeshare – a scheme that matches older people who are looking for help or companionship in their homes, with another person who can lend a hand, and who is in need of affordable accommodation.

I’m led into the sitting room by Maria, Mary’s daughter, where I meet Marian from Age UK Oxfordshire, as well as Mary and Alex themselves. The five of us sit around a warming fire, Max the dog delighted by the company, while Alex and Mary relay yesterday evening’s outing; a concert at the school Alex’s sister works at.

Mary and Alex are one of the 50 matches between ‘Householders’ and ‘Sharers’ that Age UK Oxfordshire has supported in the past three years. To be part of the scheme, the Householder pays from £150 per month, and the Sharer pays £200, the split in bills is then worked out between the household. Each arrangement comes with a minimum nine-month commitment, but many last much longer – the longest in the county now approaching the five-year mark. It’s a forward-thinking arrangement, but the set-up of sharing a home isn’t completely new to Mary.

Meet the 85-year-old and a 31-year-old living together as part of an innovative scheme

“I used to have a lot of students living with me, this is when my husband was alive,” Mary, a former music teacher, tells me later, when the two of us sit down together. And, she explains, she heard about Homeshare some time before she took steps to take part herself. “Someone told me about Homeshare, and then Marian came along. It was a couple of years after we’d first met that I decided to join the scheme. After my husband died, and his carer left – I didn’t mind being by myself in the house during the day, but I didn’t like it at night. That’s when I decided. I’m very glad, it’s been very reassuring.”

As you would expect, a rigorous vetting and prepping process pre-dates any match, all overseen by a team of two: Marian and her colleague Vicki. Applications, interviews, DBS checks, references, home visits, meetings – introductions between Sharers, Householders, and their families – and ongoing support, are all vital pillars for the success and safety of the scheme.

“I came to Homeshare at a point when I was really struggling with my mental health,” Alex shares. “It instantly appealed to me. I really liked the possibility of providing support to someone, but also, perhaps, being the recipient of some support as well. I felt there was a mutuality to it,” he says.

From there, Alex got in touch with Marian, and was invited to a Homeshare Oxfordshire lunchtime social. Here, he met Mary a

Understanding the decline in queer spaces and why they are worth saving

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Queer spaces are vital hubs for LGBTQIA+ people, combatting loneliness and deepening connections, so what’s behind the decline in their numbers? Alessandra Vescio takes a closer look

Understanding the decline in queer spaces and why they are worth saving

When talking about the experience of queer people, it is very common for the word ‘community’ to come up. LGBTQIA+ people themselves often recognise that they are part of a community, a large group made up of different lives, stories, backgrounds, who share the identity of being queer, and what this means and brings with it.

The long journey of figuring out who we are is something unique to the queer community, and although every life is different, there are some very common patterns for LGBTQIA+ people, such as the importance of ‘coming out’ and living our true selves. All of this can be very isolating, especially at the intersection of identities such as race and disability.

According to a 2022 government report, queer people are more likely to feel lonely than their non-queer peers. In particular, gay or lesbian and bisexual participants were 1.4 and 2.5 times more likely to experience loneliness, respectively. Furthermore, transgender people, and trans women in particular, experience high levels of social loneliness. Also, older LGBTQIA+ people are more likely to live alone and to not see their biological family compared to non-queer people, and LGBTQIA+ pupils are more likely to have fewer friends and a smaller group of friends than non-LGBTQIA+ pupils.

Isolation and loneliness amongst adolescents are on the rise, and the pandemic has taken its toll on young LGBT+ persons’ mental health,” says Lukasz Konieczka, executive director at Mosaic LGBT+ Young Persons’ Trust. “A young, queer person can attend a school of 2,000 students and feel like they are the only one who is queer at the best of times, but often also face hostility aimed at them directly or at someone else within the school of broader society.”

Understanding the decline in queer spaces and why they are worth saving

Nevertheless, being queer doesn’t mean being alone. There are thousands of people out there who share similar experiences, and who long for meaningful and trusting connections. And this is why queer spaces are so absolutely vital.

Over the years, they have played an essential role in raising awareness, fighting for LGBTQIA+ rights, and helping queer people make new connections and find a new family, especially for those who were rejected by their biological ones. A queer space can be a café, a bookshop, a bar, a club, a restaurant, a community centre that organises meetings, workshops, events, and parties – or that simply welcomes queer people who want to have fun with others who understand them.

But, despite their importance, queer spaces are on the verge of disappearing, and although the pandemic has made the situation worse, these venues have been at risk for a long time. For example, 58% of LGBTQIA+ venues in London closed their doors between 2006 and 2017, while in the US there are fewer than 25 lesbian bars compared to the 200 that were open in the 1980s.

There are many reasons behind this decline. For instance, dating apps now play an importan

Children could overcome phobias in just three hours, study claims

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A new five-year study claims that, with the right support, children could quickly resolve phobias

Children could overcome phobias in just three hours, study claims

According to the NHS, an estimated 10 million people in the UK live with a phobia – making it the most common type of anxiety disorder. More than just a feeling of being scared of something, phobias can be all-consuming, occasionally preventing us from going about our days in a healthy and secure way.

Common phobias include spiders, snakes, heights, enclosed spaces, or the dentist – and while some may only react with mild anxiety in the face of their phobia, others may feel completely incapacitated. But now, in a study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, researchers from the University of York and the University of Sheffield have developed a new approach to treating phobias in children.

Working with 260 children across 27 mental health services in a five-year project, the researchers wanted to understand whether it would be possible to treat a phobia in a single three-hour long session – rather than multiple sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), as is the current standard.

The three most common phobias of the children were: fear of animals, vomit and blood, and injury and injections. The treatment sessions included exposure therapy. In the case of a child who had a fear of dogs, the therapist would first direct the child to watch a dog through a window. When the child became ‘bored’ of this, the therapist would coach the child to open the door and, then, gradually get closer to the dog.

“We found that this single three-hour session reduced a child’s phobias and in most cases resolved them, at the same success rate as multiple sessions did,” Professor Lina Gega, director of the Institute of Mental Health Research at York, says. “Our method was based on the premise that the opposite of fear is boredom, and children can become bored quite quickly of a repeated activity.”

As Professor Gega highlights, there are a number of issues with the current approach to treating children’s phobias with multiple therapy sessions. Namely, the child might experience anxiety each week ahead of the session. But also, these sessions intrude on the child’s life, are costly to the NHS, and do not account for limitations to accessing the sessions.

“We often find that with multiple sessions, the drop-out rate is high, so now that we know that just one three-hour session can be just as effective in children, it could open up new opportunities for clinical services to reduce waiting lists, resolve attendance barriers, and save money.”

Resolving a phobia faster has more benefits than might first meet the eye. The study pointed to the fact that severe phobias can often be related to other conditions such as ADHD and depression. It’s therefore possible that resolving the phobia more quickly may enable clinicians to identify other problems, and better support their patients.

“Fears are actually a very rational part of what it means to be human; fears can protect us from getting hurt,” Professor Gega says. “It is only when these fears start to prevent us from doing things in daily life that they can become a clinical issue.

“You can imagine, however, how liberating it is for a chil

10 terrific things to try in March to benefit your wellbeing

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From a book that will reignite your creativity to an outdoor activity made for moments of reflection, try something new with our enriching suggestions

1. Page-turners

10 terrific things to try in March to benefit your wellbeing

My Year In Small Drawings: Notice, Draw, Appreciate by Matilda Tristram

If you’re seeking a new creative outlet, this wonderfully visual diary is a fantastic place to start. From trees to objects in the window, get drawing little-by-little with Matilda Tristram’s sketching prompts, designed to help you find a moment of relaxation throughout the year.

(Out now, £10.99)

2. Out and about

Go for a gratitude walk

When life gets busy, it can be difficult to make time to recognise the things that make you happy, but going on a gratitude walk can be an effective solution. Use your daily walk to think about what you’re thankful for, or use prompts from a gratitude scavenger hunt to help you better understand yourself. For example, pick up something along the way that makes you thankful, or find one thing that you love to smell.

3. Act of kindness

Donate a letter

There’s no denying that one letter can make someone’s day – especially for those who are going through a difficult time and living with cancer. By donating a letter through the charity ‘From Me to You’, you’ll be helping someone feel less alone on their journey. So if you want to put pen to paper and spread a little bit of kindness, sign up today.

10 terrific things to try in March to benefit your wellbeing


4. Lend us your ears

‘Radio Lento’

‘Radio Lento’ is a must for anyone who enjoys listening to the sound of birds tweeting in the morning, crashing coastal waves, or falling rain. Bring the outside in and be transported to a moment of solitude with these un-edited soothing soundscapes from around the UK. What are you waiting for? And relax…

(Available on some podcast platforms)

5. Plugged-In

Dr Justin Puder

Dr Justin Puder is a therapist and psychologist who uses funny and informative TikTok videos to educate his viewers on mental health, in the hope of reducing the stigma and helping people along the way. Whether you want to learn more, or you just fancy a relatable chuckle, give him a follow!

(@amoderntherapist on TikTok)


WHO SAID THAT?! 😱 Read more

How can managers support their team’s mental health?

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New data from Mental Health First Aid England reveals that managers are ‘out of their depth’ when it comes to their team’s mental health. We share some useful tips and resources that can help

How can managers support their team’s mental health?

Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA England) has revealed that three-quarters of managers are worried about the impact that the rising cost of living is having on their team’s mental wellbeing. Whilst the majority of managers recognise the importance of supporting mental health, one in three feel ‘out of their depth’ when it comes to knowing how. This rises to almost half of managers under the age of 25.

Simon Blake OBE, chief executive of Mental Health First Aid England says, “With the threat of recession and the worst cost of living crisis in a generation, a focus on people’s mental health and wellbeing is more important than ever if businesses are to support their people, boost productivity and maintain their bottom line.”

To act on this data, sourced from 2000 working people in management positions, MHFA England is calling for organisations to back their latest “My Whole Self Day” campaign. This is aimed at driving more support for mental health in the workplace - encouraging a culture of collaboration where managers feel confident to talk about mental health and encourage teams to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work.

MHFA England notes that providing managers with the appropriate training and resources will give people - and businesses - the ingredients to thrive. “Brilliant managers who understand mental health are worth their weight in gold”, Simon comments.“Research shows that managers have as much impact on a person’s mental health as their partner. With the stakes this high, employers cannot afford not to give the support and training they need to carry out their role effectively.”

The role of managers in creating inclusive and supportive workplaces

Managers are vital in creating a culture of inclusivity and ensuring every employee feels supported at work. Simon recognises that “the relationship between managers and their team is key for the health and wellbeing of the whole organisation.

“We know teams that feel safe and connected work better together. Our people and teams are at their most effective and creative when everybody feels psychologically safe and is seen, heard, and valued. Good business performance relies on effective management, which includes having compassionate conversations about mental health”, he adds.

“Where people are driven, connected and supported to do and be their best, they fly.”

Tips for managers to support mental health in the workplace

For those who may not know where to begin when it comes to supporting their teams’ mental health, we asked Simon for some tips for driving these conversations. Remember, this doesn’t just have to fall to managers - anyone can spark a conversation around mental health, whether you’re working from home or in the office.

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