Tackling loneliness and isolation through memories of sport


Spirit of 2012 funds Sporting Memories: Uniting Generations - a project designed to capture memories of Olympic and Paralympic Games gone by and to tackle social isolation amongst older people. 

With loneliness and isolation being at the forefront of people’s minds this Christmas, Tony Jameson-Allen, Co-founder & Director of Sporting Memories Network, talks about how they are tackling this issue in a very unique way.


"Loneliness and isolation can have a dramatic impact on people’s physical and mental wellbeing. The Chief Medical Officer in England has even stated that: “Social isolation and worse physical health are risk factors for depression in any age group, but are particularly important in older age because they are more common and therefore account for a higher proportion of cases. For example, around 10% of people aged 65 years and over in England reported that they were lonely often or all the time, and 5 million reported that television provided their main company."*

This is something that as a society, we need to tackle.

Recalling great moments of sport can prove beneficial in promoting cognitive functioning, triggering long held memories and providing social activities that can play their part in tackling social isolation and loneliness. Sporting Memories Network uses archive images of sporting heroes, old sports grounds and teams to help trigger memories of older sports fans attending volunteer-led, community based, weekly groups.

"Around 10% of people aged 65 years and over in England reported that they were lonely often or all the time, and 5 million reported that television provided their main company."

Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2013

At Sporting Memories, the subject matter of sport offers a common currency and natural topic for conversations - promoting communication and interaction. Groups are held in accessible venues including libraries, museums, and community centres and even at sports stadiums such as Lord’s Cricket Ground. Some remarkable stories have emerged from our groups, including one gentleman who it transpired had played at Wembley alongside Bill Shankly and Matt Busby.

Whilst not everyone has maybe had such a grand sporting career, most people do have a story to tell and focussing on sport can tap into a subject that is held dear by many and connects communities and generations. Talking sport also often leads participants to either revisit sports once played, or gives an opportunity for facilitators to offer new games or exercises to engage in. A recent event held in partnership with Gloucestershire County Cricket Club, Bristol Academy and Bedminster Down School saw older people from across the city spending the day at the ground, sharing stories with former cricketers, playing board games with younger adults and trying out accessible sports facilitated by the Academy students in the indoor nets.

Sporting Memories: Uniting Generations was a project funded by Spirit of 2012 this year to capture memories of Olympic and Paralympic Games gone by and to tackle social isolation of older people through the development of multimedia toolkits for schools and colleges. The project drew the support of Sir Steve Redgrave, Katherine Grainger and David Weir and the Prime Minister David Cameron also contributed his own memory of London 2012.

The project involved a series of events with the Youth Sport Trust, young volunteers and schools in Glasgow, East Lothian and Bristol. Memories were also captured from the public, one of which included a daily diary of one gentleman who attended every day of the 1948 Olympic Games in London.  It was a prime example of how evoking Sporting Memories can bring young and older people together, and help tackle loneliness and isolation head-on."

*Source: Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2013 Public Mental Health Priorities: Investing in the Evidence


Tony Jameson-Allen is Co-founder & Director of Sporting Memories Network.

To find out more about their work, visit www.sportingmemoriesnetwork.com

Watch a short film below about the Sporting Memories: Uniting Generations event in Bristol earlier this year: