A new year brings new areas for the Campaign to work in. Having successfully mobilised local people across Cornwall and Essex to raise awareness of the health implications of loneliness in older age, the Campaign has now arrived in Sefton and Staffordshire.
This time it seems there’ll be even more collaborative campaigning – in Staffordshire, we’re already working closely with the Beth Johnson Foundation and have arranged a meeting to introduce the Loneliness Harms Health campaign next week. I visited Sefton in mid-December and met a large number of organisations that doing incredible work with and for the older population in the area.
The metropolitan borough of Sefton lies in Merseyside and incorporates Bootle and Southport. It is a real place of contrasts: Southport is a pretty seaside resort where many plan to retire to, whilst Bootle is very urban with a younger population. There is a severe level of deprivation in this borough; with the ten most deprived wards containing 41% of the population.
Crucially for us and other campaigners, there is a large older population– the borough has a higher proportion of people over aged 85 than any other Metropolitan Authority. There are also a high number of older people living alone.
It is immediately apparent that Sefton has a really thriving voluntary and community sector, which is acutely aware of the difficulties lonely older people face.
I first met with two inspiring women who run Sefton OPERA (Older People’s Enabling Resource and Action). They work with scores of volunteers to deliver a wide range of services and activities that aim to stimulate the body and mind of older people, ranging from swimming groups, to tea dances, to history projects with school students. Addressing loneliness and isolation is at the core of the work Sefton OPERA does.
I also met the Sefton Partnership for Older Citizens (or SPOC!) This is a strategic partnership set up to bring together support for older people and to provide them with the opportunity to be part of the planning of services. SPOC made up of older people (with representatives from local older people’s forums) and the voluntary and community centre.
SPOC recently wrote a strategy for older citizens, of which tackling loneliness and isolation is a key objective. As part of this strategy, the partnership has already created a handbook for older people living in Sefton, as well as leaflets (produced in partnership with the Council and NHS Sefton) detailing ways to stay healthy, active and safe in Sefton.
These materials have gone out across the borough to all GPs, who have been asked to distribute them to patients where they see a need. The leaflets suggest opportunities for volunteering, learning and connecting. They are now developing a signposting leaflet for bereaved older people, to be given out by registrars when a death is registered.
Sefton is therefore already alive with successful interventions and support that prevents or alleviates loneliness. Indeed, other organisations and local authorities would do well to replicate what SPOC and Sefton OPERA have achieved.
Nonetheless, they are still facing the same issues others have uncovered around identifying and engaging the most isolated, and they are keen to find ways to solve them. Loneliness in older age is not currently in the JSNA or the joint health and wellbeing strategy, but representatives from the council appear open to its inclusion and it is encouraging that SPOC want to work with us over the next few months to ensure that this is achieved, and their good work can be continued.