When Len Hodge’s wife Sarah died 14 years ago, the Welsh pensioner suddenly found himself very lonely.
Hodge, 87, who lives in south Croydon, particularly missed the time he spent with her listening to, and performing, music.
It was the start of a late-blossoming musical career that would see him perform in so many clubs “I can’t even remember all their names” he says.
It is no surprise Hodge’s music career began with their mutual love for the organ. Sarah died of a heart attack and Hodge admitted that life without her was tough: “I do get lonely, my daughter is very good to me but sometimes I never see a soul all day.
“Me and my wife use to go up to Elephant and Castle, Wandsworth all those places. Anywhere that there was organs we went,” he remembers.
The two would finish the night in a pub called the Cricketers. “We would always end up there because an organ player called Jimmy Blyth was always playing there,” he says.
To his surprise one evening Blyth asked if Hodge could play the organ. “I can’t even bloody play the mouth organ.” he replied. “‘So look’ he said: “‘I’ll teach you to play the organ if you teach me how to drive’.” And so it began.
“He told me to buy a piano, so I brought a piano for £1.50 … you can imagine how long ago it was” said Hodge.
Hodge has in fact spent years in pubs, care homes and charities playing his organ around Croydon. He said: “I play in different clubs for the elderly, have played in Croydon University Hospital three years running for the doctors and nurses.”
Hodge also has fond memories of how Croydon used to be. He described roads full of people going to cinemas and dance halls. “Roads were packed at 11 o’clock at night. You go out now at seven o’clock and there’s not a soul on the road.”
He was given £15 a fortnight to play at the British Legion. “But I said I don’t want the money… I don’t charge, it is my hobby” he told me. “So every time I played I’d give the money to the bar man to buy the elderly people a drink”.
What really drives Hodge is his passion to entertain, his attempt to battle loneliness with one the thing him and his wife shared a love for – “we loved the organ music”.
Hodge’s daughter, Patricia, was only around nine years old when he started playing. “She played, better than me” Hodge admitted, “and so she would come with me to help me.”
And now Mr Hodge plays all over Croydon. “I even have people always asking me if I can sing, as though everybody from Wales can sing…I tell them no I can’t bloody sing!”
Loneliness is a huge health concern that many people are not aware about. Age UK have set up a campaign towards loneliness by offering a telephone befriending service, providing weekly phone calls for friendly chats.
“Research shows loneliness can be more harmful than smoking 15 cigarettes a day” Age UK said; “It can also increase the risk of high blood pressure, with one study finding that lonely people have a 64% increased chance of developing clinical dementia.”
Age UK’s Charity Director, Caroline Abrahams, said: “At Age UK we believe that we all have a responsibility to take action and that the right interventions can make a huge difference to the older people in our lives”.
“This new guidance for councils is a welcome opportunity to shed light on good practice and support the development of promising approaches to tackling loneliness. There is clearly some outstanding work being done to tackle the loneliness epidemic across the country but much more needs to be done” Abrahams added.