Nanaimo organizations are working to address social isolation among seniors through their project Seniors Connect. Left to right are Lesley Clarke, executive director of Nanaimo Women’s Centre; Deborah Hollins, executive director of Nanaimo Family Life Association; John Horn, City of Nanaimo social planner; Joan Ryan with the Nanaimo Lifeline Program; and Penny MacCourt with Better Together: Age-Friendly Nanaimo. TAMARA CUNNINGHAM/News Bulletin

Initiatives aim to cut back on social isolation for Nanaimo’s seniors

Five Nanaimo agencies are working together through Seniors Connect

A meal among neighbours is the latest proposal to help seniors connect to the community.

Five Nanaimo agencies, armed with more than $2 million from the federal government over the next three years, are tackling social isolation among seniors through Seniors Connect, a project that’s seen a new drop-in centre, investment in age-friendly infrastructure and outreach service. Now there’s a pitch to expand the original proposal to include a program like Britain’s The Big Lunch, where people are drawn out of their homes and into the street to share a meal.

The aim is to help connect seniors to their communities and reduce social isolation with Nanaimo Family Life, City of Nanaimo, Nanaimo Lifeline, Nanaimo Women’s Centre and Better Together: Age-Friendly Nanaimo, leading the charge.

The 2016 census shows 22 per cent of Nanaimo’s population is over the age of 65 and social isolation is a “big issue” according to Deborah Hollins, executive director of Nanaimo Family Life, who says it can be caused from poverty, where people live, a need for transportation or lack of awareness about activities.

“We just finished our first year [of Seniors Connect] and I can tell you we have incredible things happening in the community and we’re getting really good feedback from seniors,” she said.

A Seniors Connect committee has been getting public feedback about where the City of Nanaimo should put its share of the funding, with the first investment being a $25,000 contribution towards a bus shelter near the Bowen Park activity centre. City social planner John Horn said there’s an active seniors’ program at Bowen park but when people come out of the program to catch the bus, there’s no shelter there. It had been removed and wasn’t replaced.

He said the committee will continue to get public feedback and identify key changes that can be made.

There’s also a plan to apply for funding this month for a program like The Big Lunch.

“We thought we’d steal that idea about food and convening people and bringing them out of their houses but they don’t have to go very far…” said Horn, adding the program could involve breakfast, lunch and then he’d like to see a white tablecloth, sit-down dinner on the street in front of homes to draw people out several times. By knowing neighbours, Horn believes people are safer, but it’s also a way of drawing seniors out of their homes.

Visit for a survey on how to make Nanaimo age-friendly. To learn more about Seniors Connect, please visit

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