Since 2003, dedicated crafters up and down the UK have been knitting miniature woolly hats to sit atop bottles of innocent smoothies. More than six million hats later, the Big Knit has raised more than £2 million to help Age UK be there for older people. We unravel the story behind a cosy solution to the very real problem of social isolation
From unicorns to badgers, and from toadstools to Tyrannosaurus rex, creativity knows no bounds when it comes to the Big Knit knitters. In the past 14 years, inventive volunteers have knitted and purled more than 6 million tiny hats, all destined for the top of bottles of innocent smoothies up and down the country.
For each behatted bottle sold, innocent gives 25p to Age UK to help fund vital local and national services that combat loneliness. More than £2 million has been raised to date, and this October’s Big Knit is set to be the biggest ever.
It may seem a distant problem as you grab your lunchtime juice or smoothie, but social isolation is a huge issue for people in later life. In the UK, 3.9 million older people say TV is their main form of company, while 200,000 older people report that they haven’t had a conversation with friends or family for a month.
Over the years, we have received a range of really amazing hand-knitted hats through the doors of Fruit Towers
Age UK is the country’s largest charity dedicated to helping people make the most out of later life, and tackling loneliness is among their priorities. As innocent’s PR manager Eleanor O’Leary explains, the partnership made complete sense: “The Big Knit helps to fund Age UK centres where older people can enjoy things like quizzes, group lunches and dance classes. They are a social lifeline to thousands of older people, providing them with something that everyone, young or old, can relate to – the joy of friendship – and we wanted to share that with as many people as possible.”
June, one of the real-life stars of a video created to spread word of this year’s Big Knit, explains how loneliness crept in when her husband passed away. “My husband and I had been together since we were kids,” she says. “I was 13 when we met, he was 15. Very soon after I moved here [the house in which June lives now] my husband was taken ill, and passed away. If you’ve never been on your own, it’s very difficult.”
She discovered company at an Age UK centre where she and likeminded friend Eleonore chat over a pot of tea, share jokes and occasionally have a dance.
“Having company, to share things with and have a giggle with, makes life sweet again,” says June. “We have a ball. We have a really good time. With Age UK, you’re never alone.”
The knitting community, from experienced needle-clackers to novices, has risen to the Big Knit challenge with enthusiasm. Their designs range from the cosy to the quirky: from striped bobble hats in all colours of the rainbow, to fox and monkey hats, designs made from crocheted ‘granny squares’, post boxes, pumpkins, and even a woollen Usain Bolt, complete with his signature victory pose.
“Over the years, we have received a range of really amazing hand-knitted hats through the doors of Fruit Towers,” says O’Leary, “including Mr Men characters, emojis, ‘woolter-melons’ and even unicorns. Every hat makes a difference and goes towards helping Age UK with the very important work they do.”
They are a social lifeline to thousands of older people, providing them with something that everyone, young or old, can relate to – the joy of friendship
Important work it is, and Age UK is not the only group tackling it head on. There are face-to-face and telephone befriending projects, such as those run by the Royal Voluntary Service, British Red Cross and the 24-hour, free helpline for information and companionship, The Silver Line. The Campaign to End Loneliness is a network of national, regional and local organisations and people who want loneliness to be acted upon as a public health priority. They campaign on issues connected with loneliness, as well as collecting and sharing research. As the group points out, many people are already working to end loneliness across the country, neighbours, families, friends, charities, businesses, post offices, pubs and hobby and sports groups, whether they’re aware of it or not.
The Big Knit is also, in itself, a way of getting people together: many people meet up to take part in sociable crafting sessions, with…
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