Meg on TV, promoting the work of The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness

The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, which was set up by Jo before she died, worked with 13 charities and businesses, throughout 2017,  to examine the issue of loneliness and stimulate debate about the issue. It was chaired by Rachel Reeves MP and Seema Kennedy MP and in December they published their findings and recommendations in this report

Lois Muddiman from Ami and Meg McLean were delighted to be asked to help publicise the report by appearing on the Victoria Derbyshire show on 15th December.

Introducing Meg

Meg outside Broadcasting House
Meg outside Broadcasting House

Meg lived on the streets of Oxford for 6 years after her life fell apart, following the birth of her stillborn son.  She is now rebuilding her life and is being helped and supported in this, by volunteer John.  John applied to be a volunteer driver through the Ami website.  He was matched with Meg who suffers from agoraphobia and epilepsy and finds it difficult to get out and about.  They have met regularly for almost a year.  John particularly enjoys helping Meg to walk her two dogs.  Now it is easier for Meg to get out of the house because she has someone to accompany her and provide some transport.  As a result, her confidence has grown and she now attends a weekly “Chat Stop” in Oxford with Lois.  She travels into Oxford by bus and is able to make her way independently to the café.

Our Big Day Out

The BBC News Room
The BBC News Room

Hence a trip to London was a very BIG deal for Meg.  The BBC kindly made it all doable by offering to send a car for us.  We were picked up at 06.30 and it was still dark as we left Oxford en route for Broadcasting House in London.  As we drove, we chatted about what Meg might say during her interview.  Our taxi driver was listening and soon he too opened up about the loneliness he had experienced.  It was a reminder of just how widespread the problem is.  The traffic along the Westway was crawling and we worried we might not make it on time.  But we arrived just before 09.00.  After signing in and having our bags scanned we were escorted through the building, past the famous BBC newsroom and down to the Green Room for the Victoria Derbyshire Show. Today it was being hosted by Tina Daheley

In the Green Room

Meg enjoying coffee in the Green Room
Meg enjoying coffee in the Green Room

We chatted to the other guests on the show and watched them as they took their turn in the studio.  Every 15 minutes another topic is introduced and each one has several guests lined up in the Green Room. So it was very busy with people constantly coming and going.  We were due on at 09.45.  At 09.30 we were escorted into the studio and miked up.  The studio was enormous and consisted of 2 very similar sets.  As one interview is taking place live on one set, the interviewees for the next slot are seated and prepped on the other set.  Tina Daheley switched seamlessly between different topics. From interviewing people about Cystic Fibrosis, to a live broadcast outside parliament.  Suddenly, she was introducing Rachel Reeves and Seema Kennedy in Leeds and we were live on TV.

Live on TV

Meg was a star.  She spoke eloquently, bravely and movingly about her experiences on live TV.  I was full of admiration for her.  By being so open about her own experiences, she is helping to break down the stigma of loneliness.  This stigma prevents many people from seeking help and instead they continue to suffer in silence.  You can see a little of Meg’s interview below.

It was all over in a flash and very soon we were being escorted off the set and back to the Green Room.  There we met the next group of interviewees on the sofa. They were eagerly awaiting the arrival of Anton du Bec for an item about the upcoming Strictly Come Dancing Final.  We thought we might get to meet him, but our taxi arrived too soon, much to Meg’s disappointment.

Back in the taxi, Meg and I laughed all the way home, re-living every detail of our adventure.  We got back to Oxford, exhausted, at around 12.30.  The whole thing had taken around 6 hours, for just over 10 minutes on TV! not something you’d want to do everyday. But it was a lot of fun and we were pleased to have helped to publicise the work of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness.

“Everyone is worried about being judged” – Guest Blogger Chris Lunnon talks about his first term at Oxford University

cote brasserieMy First Day

Sunday 1st October 2017. The big day. My first day at Oxford Uni, a time of enlightenment, personal development and changing perceptions. I was terrified.

But I was also phenomenally excited. Then terrified, excited again, terrified… you get the picture. Everything culminated in, what was supposed to be, a ‘goodbye lunch’ at Cote Brasserie, with my parents. That turned into an awkward staring out the window competition. I just wanted to start, take the jump and just get the ball rolling. So instead of following my Dad’s plan and go on an extended tour around my college, I headed to the JCR*. I soon ended up in a conversation that lasted about three hours.

On that very first day, the most important thing to realize is that everyone is in the same boat. Everyone (apart from the rowers and keen kids on the head-start courses) is entirely new to their surroundings and everyone is worried about being judged.  Whether people will like them and how they’re going to start over again in a new place. The best thing you can do is just go where everyone else is and ask ‘Where are you from?’ ‘What course are you doing?’ or  ‘Hello, What’s your name?’

christchurch meadowMiddle Ground of Drinking

There seems to be a perception that either you go out all the time or never at all. The ‘middle ground of drinking’ is somewhere very nice to be. You don’t need to feel you have to make yourself uncomfortable, but, at the same time, going out to a pub or a club is a great way to make new friends in freshers’ week. If, like me, you don’t find it easy to strike up plans, you’ll find club nights and pub crawls, put on by freshers’ reps very helpful for meeting people.

Chris at Bodlian croppedFreshers’ week is a time when everyone is getting to know each other, and excited to be starting afresh in a new city.

After this, support from the university dries up a little and you get thrown in the deep end. I personally, exhausted after freshers’ week and overstressing about work, got a little ‘1st week blues’. But then matriculation happened – a ceremony/day drinking in a park – and now most of the friendships I have, are from that day.

Socially, Few Things are Set in Stone

Fundamentally, it’s important to remember that socially, few things are set in stone. The best way I found to make connections is to ‘put yourself out there’. This was hard for me,  as I had grown up with low self-esteem, so don’t think this is something only ‘other people’ can do. Finding things that interest you, or signing up for random things like Kabaddi is a great way of meeting new people and exposing yourself to new ideas. It’s a struggle to balance ‘being yourself’ and ‘being what other people want you to be’. It’s important to remember these ideas are always changing depending on who you’re with and where you are. Perhaps it’s best to focus instead on working out what you really want to do.

Studying at Oxford is a particularly intense experience, one we spend too much time fretting over how to get it ‘right’. Sometimes, it’s best just to let things happen the way they happen. Once we let go of the idea of trying to control things we often find things work out in the end.

Chris Lunnon

*JCR = Junior Common Room

Ale with Ami: CAMRA partners with Ami to tackle loneliness in Oxford

Real Ale, Real Conversation

Tuesday 13th December 7-9pm
Chequers Inn, 131 High Street, Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX1 4DH



This Christmas, Ami is partnering with the Campaign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA) Oxford branch to help people connect with their community.   CAMRA and Ami will be running a public event called “Ale with Ami” at the Chequers Inn pub to help people make new friends. From 7-9 pm on Tuesday 13th December, people will be invited down to the pub to take part in a social ‘speed-dating’ style event with the intention of making a few new friends on the evening. The first 30 thirsty people will receive a complimentary half pint.


The pub is well-placed to tackle loneliness. Earlier this year, CAMRA commissioned research from Oxford University which showed that people who have a ‘local’ pub have more close friends on whom they can call for support, are happier and more trusting of others and feel more engaged with their community.

Steve Lawrence from CAMRA’s local Oxfordshire branch says: “Our branch was keen to get involved in this event because bringing people to the pub is a huge step towards combating social isolation. Simply put, a good local pub can be like family. We need to encourage more people who are struggling to visit their local and reach out to others in their community – you never know who you may meet!”

Lois Muddiman from Ami says: “Ami is a new on-line platform that helps people connect to others in their local community and offer them help and support. We’re only working in Oxfordshire at the moment but plan to be national in 2017. We’re delighted to be working with CAMRA to run this event and hope people will use the opportunity to make some new connections”

pub-sign-2Ale with Ami is a public event organised by Ami in partnership with Oxford CAMRA. Tuesday 13th December 7-9pm
Chequers Inn, 131 High Street, Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX1 4DH
For more information contact Ami

Ami wins award from Social Tech investor Nominet Trust

Ami has been awarded £50,000 to help fund a pilot in Oxfordshire. It is one of only 9 successful organisations selected from 298 ventures that applied for the latest round of Social Tech seed funding from The Nominet Trust.

Ami is a new initiative which aims to help reduce loneliness and social isolation which are harmful to our health: lacking social connections is a comparable risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, (Holt-Lunstad, 2010) and is worse for us than obesity and physical inactivity.

p1000420Project Manager Lois Muddiman said “Hidden behind closed doors in our communities are lonely, isolated people who need a little help and support to continue to live independently. There are also people out there with time to spare and the desire to help but they don’t know how to find each other. This is how Ami can help, you just have to enter your postcode to find out who needs help near you.  You’ll find details of people who’d like some help. You can see what kind of help they need e.g. companionship, shopping or a lift to the doctors and what their interests are.

The Ami Pilot

140 new volunteers have registered with Ami since the pilot began in July.  Sheila Furlong from The Archway Foundation said, “We’ve already attracted more than double the number of volunteers we usually have, using Ami.”

The other partner organisations taking part in the Ami pilot are Community First Oxon, Enrych, Wantage Advice Centre, Volunteer Link Up and Abingdon Good Neighbour Scheme.  Good neighbour schemes in Didcot and East Oxford have recently joined and Bicester will be joining very soon.

Who is developing Ami?

ami-team-photo-and-cakeAmi is being developed by Oxford Computer Consultants  They aim to use technology to build stronger communities and reduce loneliness. The project is being funded using a combination of EU, Nominet Trust and internal funding. It is operating as a not-for-profit project and plans to become an independent social enterprise in 2017.

Managing Director, Dr John Boyle said “We’re currently piloting the site in Oxfordshire and we plan to be national soon. We’ll be adding lots more features to the site over the coming months. The Nominet Trust funding will help us to further test the potential of our idea”

Ami Workshop – Volunteer Organisations’ first thoughts on Ami

We invited several organisations who run Volunteer Befriending or Good Neighbour Schemes to come and visit us in Oxford at the end of February.  We hoped they would learn more about Ami and we would hear their feedback on our ideas.  There were representatives from RVSAge UK , Oxford County Council, Volunteer Link Up  Abingdon Good Neighbour Scheme and Community Christmas  

As part of the presentation we showed some examples of the sort of screen a new volunteer would be able to see on Ami.  It would include details about the people who are looking for help, but not enough to identify them or where they live.  It could show their age, gender, interests and an icon to indicate what kind of help they require.  The short profile would also show which volunteer agency had assessed their needs.

map and list

After a presentation (you can download our slides) we asked everyone to tell us what the benefits of a system like Ami might be for their organisation.  The top three benefits were:

  1. Better Matching – being able to match volunteers with clients by location or interests
  2. Better Referrals – a single point of referrals for GPs, relatives and other agencies
  3. Attract more volunteers – by showing local need, offering micro-volunteering and making the process easier

All agreed it could be a really useful tool for their organisations.  Some imagined an Ami App where a pre-registered volunteer could find out what help was needed in their local area this weekend when they had some free time.  Other benefits discussed included gathering national data including live data and activity reporting.

workshop 9

The top concerns of those attending the workshop were

  1. Cost, Sustainability – What would it cost to use and can Ami be financially sustainable
  2. Cooperation – Can the volunteer organisations work together, sharing volunteers & data
  3. Safeguarding – Risks of data on-line for vulnerable older people

These are all concerns that we expected and we believe we can begin to show how we will address them during our first pilot which is planned for this summer.  We’re still looking for different types of organisations to work with including Churches, Clinical Commissioning Groups and Housing Associations, so do get in touch if you might be interested.  A huge thank you to everyone who gave us their time.  We hope the day was useful and that you’ll continue to work with us.