2 March 2021

Ali's story


Living in North Kensington and originally from Lebanon, Ali, 66, felt a sense of disconnection with his community, an inability and a lack of opportunity to meet and get to know others, and a lack of access to the outside world. Moving to the UK in 1994, he briefly lived in South London before laying down roots in Kensington. Integrating into the community proved challenging, as did his search for local support. After being introduced to the Better Lives service, the coffee mornings became a weekly staple in Ali’s diary – a social activity that helped build and sustain his confidence and motivation to leave the house.

“I used to push myself to wake up only to go to the coffee mornings. It was so nice to sit in Costa Coffee on Harrow road – socializing and mixing with others. Seeing children play, young people chat, and others go about their daily business. Watching the everyday world go by and feeling part of it. It reminded me what it feels like to be a human being.”

For Ali, it wasn’t about meeting kindred spirits or like-minded peers. With friends and family far away, what he valued most about the meetups was simply the opportunity to connect and converse with others.

“Each person that attended was different and had their own unique story, but we all got on very well together and found things to talk about. I don’t have friends and family in the UK, so this was one of the only chances I had to enjoy conversation with others in person. I live alone in a basement flat with no view or access to sunshine and natural light. After experiencing a great deal of loneliness, I used to sometimes feel like the world was against me. But activities like the coffee mornings changed that. They improved my mental health and gave me something to look forward to.’

As well as tackling the root causes of his social isolation, the group befriending activities have helped Ali to keep his mind and body active and discover new hobbies.

“I’ve also attended other activities including a games session and a chair-based exercise class. The exercise class was tough at first, but it was great to get my heart pumping and body moving. I’ve since tried to incorporate some of the movements into my daily routine.”

Ali contracted Covid in March and has since suffered with some of the long-term repercussions of the illness. Living alone and without a local support network to rely on, he turned to Octavia for help. A weekly phone call and several food parcels kept Ali going and his basic needs tended to. Much of this, he says, is due to the genuine dedication and know-how of his outreach workers.

“My outreach worker, Andy, phones me every week without fail to see how I’m doing. Whilst I was in self-isolation and recovering from the virus, he arranged for food parcels from North Paddington Food Bank to be delivered to my home every week. Without this essential support, I don’t know what I would have done. At the end of every conversation, he always says that I can contact him if I need help. It’s reassuring to know that help is just a phone call away.”

For many people living in a single-person household, lockdown has meant dealing with a relentless and often grinding solitude. During the periods of enforced isolation, Octavia’s outreach calls have remained a beacon of light for Ali.

“My weekly phonecalls with my outreach worker have been my window into the outside world. Our conversations flow naturally, and I feel able to open up to him about my struggles. Even just a ten-minute chat can make a big difference.”

Following a two-year evaluation with charity sector consultancy and Think Tank, New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), we have published our Better Lives for Older People research report. 

NPC's evaluation of our Outreach, Befriending and Activities service found that it reduces loneliness, encourages greater self-care, supports physical health and independence, and promotes the wellbeing of older, isolated people living in central and west London.

Read the Better Lives for Older People summary report here