In our latest blog Director of Campaigns, Policy and Research, Robin Hewings discusses the findings of our new report, ‘Loneliness in West Wales’.
Our new report, ‘Loneliness in West Wales’ is the culmination of our work in the region that started in 2017.
The aim of the report is to leave a legacy that brings together the learning and insights of the many committed individuals and organisations we have been fortunate enough to work with.
It was written in partnership with the fantastic team at the charity Tempo Time Credits. This was carried out through the first nine months of the Coronavirus pandemic.
We have benefitted from the creative ways they found to deal with the challenges of Covid-19 and conduct the research.
The report shows some of the unique challenges faced in tackling loneliness in Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion. One of the most deprived regions in Northern Europe, it is sparsely populated, and its two leading sectors are seasonal employers – agriculture and tourism.
Meanwhile, many older people move to the area for its remarkable beauty, sometimes leaving behind support networks. There are also large numbers of Welsh speakers, which services need to cater for.
Some reading this might see similar challenges where they live. Indeed, many of the findings are applicable in other rural areas. There can be real strengths in these communities and recognising and building on these assets is an essential part of good service provision.
Many of the more successful initiatives in West Wales had strong partnerships between the public sector, third sector and communities. They also had a flexible approach that considers what works in practice and what people want.
There is a challenge here for funders – these local, diverse services are by definition resistant to being ‘scaled-up’.
Bearing this in mind, there are priorities for development in West Wales:
• Investment to support organisation to upgrade and embed their Welsh language offer into their services.
• Affordable, convenient, reliable and safe transport to ensure that older people can participate in community life and stay connected to friends and family.
• Digital inclusion to address the barriers to participation. This includes lack of kit, expensive data and the need for friendly and informal support in using the devices.
There are also better ways of working in existing services. Being lonely can make us dwell much more on the negatives of social interactions rather than brushing things off.
It is vitally important to encourage inclusion: being welcomed to a community activity has a major influence on whether an older person will return. Ageing Better in Camden have written about how they have deliberately gone about encouraging this sort of ‘Warm Welcome’.
Similarly, volunteering is a very effective way to address loneliness and helping people achieve a sense of purpose and achievement. As a result of the pandemic, we need to think of further ways of involving people, including through remote and more flexible options.
COVID-19 has also led to many changes in the way services are delivered, but we have found innovations that will outlast the pandemic. As we emerge from this period, we have come to appreciate the value of our social relationships more than ever and to understand the need to build communities and tackle loneliness.
This report helps provide a roadmap for how we can do just that.