Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Interview with Sheila Furlong of The Archway Foundation

Back in February I released the 'Slow Films in Low Light' album. The album was a collection of re-workings and remixes of my own album 'Soundtrack To A Film In My Head Which Will Never Get Made' (Rope Swing Cities 2008) by friends and label mates such as The Remote Viewer, Danny Norbury, Hannu, Library Tapes and many more. All the proceeds from this release were made for a charity very close to my heart called 'The Archway Foundation'. I recently had an interview with its director, Sheila Furlong, about the incredible work they do...

What is The Archway Foundation?

The Archway Foundation provides a service for adults hurt by loneliness. Loneliness is part of our human experience. It may be precipitated by a move to a new area, the break up of a relationship, the death of a loved one, loss of health, job or role. For some people, making meaningful friendships and relationships may be a difficulty they have had since childhood.

Whatever the reason Archway offers
• a friendly, accepting listening ear
• regular opportunities for meeting with others in a supportive environment via a weekly call in cafe, weekly social evening, monthly social group for 20 to 40 year olds
• subsidised transport to events for those who have no other means of access
• one to one befriending for those who are not able or ready to access social contact in a group setting
• special events and outings

How do you get funding for your work?

Just under 50% comes from statutory sources but this is currently under threat as budgetary constraints and a culture of tendering for contracts makes it difficult for small charities to compete with larger organisations. We have small core of regular donors (individual and group) and support from two or three local Trusts. The remainder is obtained through applications to National Grant-Making Trusts and our own fund -raising events.

What is the background and history of The Archway Foundation?

You may wish to ask your dad for his preferred wording on this one Ian! The Founder, Paul Hawgood, whilst working in a hospital for people suffering from mental illness, recognised the need for a service responsive to the needs of those hurt by loneliness, identified a gap in local provision, sought the views of potential beneficiaries and initially used his own money to set up a weekly point of supportive social contact. Operating the service against a background of Christian belief, he appealed for volunteers from churches. I saw the notice and became a volunteer in March 1982, two months after it started.

What advice would you give to anyone experiencing loneliness?

Recognising the issue is the first step and remembering that it is somethng most people experience at some point in their lives. Action thereafter will depend on an individuals situation. For people living in Oxford and Abingdon I would naturally suggest they contact Archway. People I have met have shared a range of things they have found helpful. These include listening to the radio for company, dividing the day into small chunks and planning how to spend it, including some pleasure alongside chores. Using libraries, the internet, local Volunteer bureaus, churches and community associations as potential sources of information on opportunities for meeting with others or offering to help others. Pursuing a hobby, interest or sport as a route for meeting like-minded people. There are no easy instant solutions. It takes time and energy, not to mention courage to make that first step to reducing the sense of loneliness.

Mother Teresa once said that there was no greater sickness in the developed world than loneliness and a lack of love. In my experiences in 'developing' countries, there seems to be much more focus on family, friends and support. From this angle, do you think loneliness is more problematic in developed countries?

I wouldn't say people outside of developed countries never experience loneliness but I would suggest that in many instances the effects are mitigated by the involvement of and indeed reliance on extended family and community networks. In developed countries there is greater geographical mobility, a bigger emphasis on invidividual rights and personal development with (in general) an expectation that the state should provide care in the community rather than it being provided by the community.

Also the fact that we can have such mobile 'communication' is surely a problem? It seems there is less and less of the real personal touch in our relationships. Do you think such 'virtual communication' is a reason for an increasing sense of loneliness in modern society?

Changes in society have brought benefits in some areas but not without costs in others. The technology revolution has facilitated communication on a global scale but we are in danger of having endless lists of virtual friends whilst having virtually no real friends. There is no substitute for human contact, and the "being with" that occurs during such encounters. Geographical mobility can bring about a sense of rootlessness and a lack of belonging. When life is busy and going well these things seem of little importance but at times of personal crisis like redundancy, divorce, bereavement or ill health, many find themselves isolated with no one to turn to for support.

What can people do in an everyday way if they feel someone is suffering from loneliness?

Take an interest, smile, say hello! Some people go for days without speaking to another human being. A man I know who sells The Big Issue says he measures the success of his day, not by the number of sales he makes but by the number of smiles and acknowledgments he receives to counter the insults, glares and blank expressions he gets in response to his "good morning." A little really does go a long way. Get to know who lives in your street or block. Notice if you don't see them for a while. Are they OK? Do they need someone to buy basic provisions if they are unwell? Try to include and involve those in your workplace who appear "on the edge". They may be desperate to be part of the "in crowd" but feel they wouldn't be welcome. We all need to feel needed and appreciated so look for ways of involving someone in ways that use their skills or knowledge and remember to thank them for it.The list is endless really. Don't give up if the first attempt is met with a rebuff. When we are hurting we can inadvertently keep others at arms length to protect ourselves from more pain. Gentle, genuine care and concern can melt the ice or blunt the prickles in time.

A little off topic, and a bit more personal. We know each other well (I still call Sheila 'Auntie' even though she is not a family member!), but I don't actually know what sort of music you like.

Varied. A Northern Soul fan and an addict to the radio charts and disco music in my youth, I discovered light classical and choral works in my 20's and 30's. The family collection of CD's includes a range of artists from different genres. I can be entertained and inspired by a 70's classic, a recent chart entry, a soulful symphony or the delights of "Slow Films In Low Light."
Ian I am allowed to add that "The Archway Foundation is grateful for the generosity of Ian Hawgood at Home Normal for donating the proceeds from the sale of this CD to further its work in "Serving those hurt by loneliness"?

I'd also like to thank Ben and Lee for their patience and support with this, to the artists involved and the people who bought / will buy the record THANK YOU! And special thanks to the ongoing work The Archway Foundation and other such charities and people do to help with society's needs.

For more information about The Archway Foundation and the amazing work they do please go to this site:

Interview by Ian Hawgood

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