In this blog, Programme Director of the Campaign to End Loneliness Robin Hewings reflects on the most recent ‘Loneliness in the time of Covid-19’ workshop. It explored what we’ve learnt about keeping up conversations during the pandemic.
It was great to be back in a virtual “room” full of people committed to addressing loneliness and social isolation for our first Loneliness in the time of Covid-19 session of 2021.
The session picked up on one of the key challenges that had been identified through our discussions throughout 2020. This was how we keep people talking at a time when many more are struggling. Frankly most of us have very little to talk about and are finding it harder to make conversation as the pandemic goes on!
The event was an opportunity to share hints and tips together. We were delighted to have contributions from Diane Claridge from Befriending Networks and Hillary Wadsworth from Time to Shine in Leeds. They shared some of the ways they have been supporting people to keep up meaningful conversations through these difficult times.
We also heard from the Campaign to End Loneliness’ own Head of Research, Policy and Practice, Dr Kalpa Kharicha. She helped us unpack the complex set of thoughts and feelings that underlie and contribute to loneliness, which can make it so difficult to escape. This also draws on our research on the Psychology of Loneliness.
Our polling during the event confirmed that as the pandemic has continued, people are finding it harder to make conversation. More than two thirds of our attendees recognised the issue:
53% said they had encountered issues keeping people talking during the pandemic to some extent, and 15% said it had been a big issue for them.
As a result, attendees said they were taking action to help people keep up conversations such as providing talking points. They were also offering activity packs and offering training and additional support for staff and volunteers.
Attendees shared what they’d found helpful in supporting people to keep conversations going:
- Creating a list of topics to focus on such as healthy eating, history and music.
- Creating activity packs to create talking points including items such as quizzes, crafts, cake mix, plant seeds and colouring in.
- Having an interesting set of questions prepared to engage conversation.
- Listening! Take notes of what the person is interested in so you can look at ways of centring the conversation on these subjects next time.
While most organisations are now supporting people to chat over the phone, we heard that some organisations have continued to work to enable people to connect online. This included providing technology for older people and people with disabilities, and support and guidance in how to use these devices to stay connected. We heard about online yoga, choir, live music, mindfulness, book clubs, writing clubs and even an online disco!
We also heard that some people struggled to connect remotely. Many organisations were trying to provide doorstep chats and socially-distanced walks (when permitted) as an alternative to remote conversation.
Our attendees were doing their best to offer people the chance to have positive conversations. However, we heard that volunteers and staff are increasingly dealing with difficult and emotional conversations around the subjects of bereavement, depression, anxiety and suicide.
More than half of attendees had seen the need to have conversations about difficult subjects increasing during the pandemic. 27% said it had increased a lot and 38% had seen it increase somewhat.
We recognised a need for additional support and training for volunteers and staff to deal with the issues they are coming up against. And also for support in knowing when and how to make referrals to other services.
We’ll be sharing more of our learning from the workshop in the coming weeks – do look out for that! And in our next Loneliness in the time of Covid-19 online workshop, we’ll be exploring supporting people through bereavement.
You can register for the event here.