Brentwood and Ongar is a constituency of contrasts. Its proximity to London and easy access to the City from Ingatestone, Shenfield, Brentwood and West Horndon stations, as well as Theydon Bois and Epping on the Central Line for the Ongar, North Weald and Abridge residents, means commuting is easy for those who wish to do it.
But if you travel between Brentwood and Ongar by road, you realise this is a rural constituency, with acres of farmed land and woodland separating towns, villages and hamlets. If you’re not on a bus route and have no access to a car, it can be difficult to get to shops and GP surgeries or even attend social events.
Essex County Council is taking a county wide approach to tackling loneliness and social isolation in communities across Essex. The council wants to work with communities to find ways to better connect people to create a sense of belonging.
This is particularly true for old people - so it was heartening to find some local young people doing something about it. A good number of those who’ve just finished GCSEs are involved in National Citizen Service and I recently visited them to find out what they were up to. They had chosen to raise money to hold a party at a local care home for the elderly and were busy baking and selling cakes hold tea parties for older people in Brentwood and the surrounding villages. It was a wonderful example of the generations looking after each other - and I know it was widely appreciated.
Brentwood Borough Council’s Sports, Events and Community Development Officer, Jo Cory, also came to see me to talk about her Ageing Well project for local residents. She has acquired a trailer which she intends to use as a Mobile Community Hub which will make a regular tour of villages bringing events to people, and people to events. I’ll write more about this in September when it is officially launched and the trailer fully badged up.
Essex County Council’s research shows residents across Essex believe that the way to challenge loneliness is by building stronger, friendlier, more inclusive communities while also realising that while everyone may feel lonely at some point in their life. Little acts of kindness can make a difference – a smile on the bus, a chat in a coffee shop or library – we don’t need to be told when to start doing it, we can do it now.