As Loneliness Awareness Week 2023 comes to an end, COPNI caught up with Roberta Knox, who shared her 'words of wisdom' on combatting loneliness.

Name: Roberta Knox
Age: 80
Married: Widowed
Children: two sons
Grandchildren: four (three girls and a boy)

What did/do you work at?

I was a teacher at the catering college in Portrush, for 24 years, I taught cooking and also ended up being in charge of the work placements for the students. Before that, my husband and I ran a guest house in Portrush. I retired in 2002, but then I ended up baking in Giant’s Causeway restaurant! I also helped out in Ballymoney tech (North Eastern Regional College) and worked there until I was 67.

This week is Loneliness Awareness Week, we often hear that loneliness can disproportionately impact older people. Have you ever felt lonely?

I can honestly say I have not experienced loneliness. I remember a lady telling me many years ago that you could never be lonely if you have a phone and that always stuck with me. I make an effort to keep in touch with people, it’s important to make the effort and sometimes you have to make the first move. I also have an advantage as I can still drive. I like to give lifts to people – friends, neighbours as not everyone has the means to get around.

As a widow with two grown up sons living overseas, how have you managed to keep loneliness at bay?

Well I have a busy life, I joined the local U3A (University of the Third Age) and we have a very active group here in Coleraine. There are lots of U3A groups all over Northern Ireland. They are absolutely fantastic, you can do anything! They have joined up with classes at the University, so you can learn languages, even astronomy. I learned to play bridge at U3A and I play it online now too. In fact, it was great during Covid, because we couldn’t meet up in person, we still met online every week to play. I also learned to play the ukulele through the U3A. There’s a wee group of us now called ‘Ukes at the Port’ and we play at Rathmore golf club every Wednesday. Sometimes we get requests to play at nursing homes. But really the main activities I go to are through the church. I attend Bible study three times a week and indoor bowls. I’m the captain. On Wednesday, it’scraft group and we knit and crochet blankets for missions. Thursday and Friday are my days for housework. The church is very good for getting to know people.

What advice would you give to someone who was feeling lonely?

Don’t sit in the house. Lift the phone and talk to people. You have to be a joiner. It’s hard for some people, I know. But there are lots of organisations out there, you don’t have to be alone. There is a fantastic service here called the North Coast Community Transport, and if you ring that number, they can provide transport to take you to hospital appointments or anywhere you need to go! It is fantastic. My friend has fallen and can’t drive at the minute, her husband is in hospital and the North Coast Community Transport is an absolute lifesaver.

What age has been the best age of your life? Why?

Best years of my life were probably when the children were young. We were very busy as we owned a guest house in Portrush, it was great. But to be honest, I have enjoyed every year of my life.

What is the biggest misconception about getting older?

Oh I’m not sure, but what I would say is keep going, don’t give up, don’t think about your birthdays. My sister in law is 89 and she’s out playing golf every day. I know everybody’s health is different, but you’re as old as you feel!