"He has become the symbol of this place. Every day I expect to see him at this spot on the canal. There's something touching about Peter, he loves these birds as much as he loves people," Barbara says as she walks her dog along the Regent's Canal in North London.
At the age of 82, Peter has chosen to change his habits in recent months. Every morning, he leaves his house with a couple of plastic bags full of dry bread and walks along the canal to his favourite spot, a concrete path between two small bridges off Camden Road.
The Regent's Canal man
The Regent's Canal stretches for over 8.6 miles, from the Grand Union Canal to the London Docks. Giving the feeling of being outside the capital, it is a haven for Londoners seeking tranquillity and nature. From here, Peter feeds the birds that fly towards him in the palm of his hand, and they delicately pick up their meal. A routine that calms him and allows him to meet people. Peter seems to have found his place.
“I have been coming every day for a few months already. When I arrive, most of the birds are here. It seems that they are already waiting for me. As long as I start to walk along the canal, I like to see all the wildlife by feeding them,” says the retired man, watching the people pass him by.
“Here, you get to meet a lot of people, especially when there is nice weather. The canal boats sometimes wave at me. I would say that this is one of my favourite places now.”
Before he retired, Peter was working in retail and office sales. Now living with his sister, by enjoying the fresh air of the Regent's Canal, he is trying to combat isolation, a real problem for older people in England.
According to Age UK, more than 1.4 million people in the UK over the age of 75 have lived alone in 2021 and more than a million older people say they often go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member.
Research published in 2018 by the UK Health Foundation found that older people who live alone are 50% more likely to go to A&E (Accident and Emergency) than those who live with someone else. On a mental health scale, it has been proven that loneliness increases depression.
During our conversation, I felt his need to communicate. Peter talks to the birds in the sweetest way I have ever heard. He would name most of them if he could. Before and after we met, he was surrounded by people like Barbara, who enjoyed chatting with him about the weather and the news of the country. A true symbol of the Regent's Canal: Tomorrow Peter will return there. And tomorrow the birds will still be waiting for him.
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