Four walls, Four steps – Barriers of Loneliness

Posted on 17th July 2014 by

Last week, on Radio 4’s Today programme, there was a long feature about loneliness. People talked about “the four walls” and how good it was to get out. The phrase echoed in my head, “Four walls do not a prison make”, but it seemed that for these people the four walls did make a prison.

A quick Google search revealed the source of the echoing phrase – the last verse of Richard Lovelace’s poem ‘To Althea, from Prison’:

“Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage; …”

For Lovelace, the love which fed his spirit made him feel freer than birds in the sky – as free as an angel.

On their website, the Campaign to End Loneliness give one definition of loneliness as:

“…a subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship. It happens when we have a mismatch between the quantity and quality of social relationships that we have, and those that we want.”

On this definition, buoyed up by assurances of love, fond memories, things to do, it is possible to be in solitary confinement and still not lonely. But if the companionship you seek is outside your home and you can’t get out, because of frailty, lack of transport, lack of confidence or fear, then four walls can definitely make a prison.

And so can four steps – recently, we were in touch with a 93-year-old woman who could not get out of the house because of the four steps leading down from her sheltered accommodation.

Breaching the four walls – entering through or helping someone go out their front door – or offering assistance down disabling steps do not necessarily cure loneliness, but they open up the possibilities of the companionship and friendship that can make life feel worth living, and the memories of which can sustain the long hours of solitude.

On Monday (21st July), BBC Sussex is dedicating a day to the topic of loneliness – dealing with how to overcome it and shedding light on the experiences of people who are affected by social isolation. It will include insight from experts, but most importantly real people’s stories will be reflected.

It is great that BBC Sussex are highlighting the issue of loneliness and providing a showcase to some of the solutions in Brighton & Hove – particularly for older people. We hope that people will think about how they can be part of the solution for some of the thousands of lonely and isolated older people in the city.

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