It has long been recognised that loneliness is a serious social problem. But the message that it has serious health implications is also (at last) beginning to be understood. Local authorities are waking up to the fact that chronic loneliness is a ticking time bomb in their communities, and the only way to address it is to start working with local charities and with older people themselves.
Tackling loneliness requires the whole community
The Campaign team is frequently invited to attend meetings across the UK to talk about our work and learn about what is happening locally. Most recently we attended events run by local authorities in Blackburn, Stockton-on-Tees, Wigan, Nottingham, the Cotswolds and Chester. All of these areas have brought the local council together with the voluntary sector to try and find ways to strategically address loneliness together.
It’s incredibly inspiring for us to see this – and a privilege to be involved in the process. We believe that it is only be working together, across various sectors of the community, that loneliness can ever truly be addressed.
What follows is a brief summary of some of the fantastic work that we’ve seen taking place across England. If this inspires you too, and you’d like to hold a joint-meeting or start a Loneliness Harms Health campaign of your own, please email us and we’d be happy to help.
Measuring loneliness in Stockton-on-Tees
Stockton-on-Tees over 50s Assembly was funded by the Borough Council to employ a researcher to understand how and why people become lonely and how it impacts on their lives. The researcher worked with volunteers from the Assembly and surveyed over 600 older residents that to answer these questions.
This new data will now give the Council and its partners a fresh understanding of how to prevent the development of loneliness and find ways to reduce its impact. The Campaign was invited to talk at the launch of this report and provide an overview of what is happening elsewhere in the country.
Identifying loneliness in Blackburn with Darwen
Blackburn with Darwen is at an exciting stage in their fight against loneliness. The Blackburn 50+ Partnership identified loneliness as a key issue they have been working with their health and wellbeing board to support the development of their strategy.
Measuring the extent of the problem locally was quickly acknowledged as a necessary first step and a series of community meetings were held to gather local views, which were to feed into the development of an integrated needs assessment on loneliness.
The Campaign joined the group for one of these sessions. As a result of this work a meeting was arranged with a joint CCG and local authority commissioning group to ensure a better informed partnership approach to meet the needs of vulnerable lonely people was developed.
Scoping the issue with Nottingham City Council
Whilst the Council have already funded various initiatives that promote social connections in older age, they have a growing awareness that loneliness is a problem for the older members of their urban population. The Campaign was invited along to this initial scoping meeting with the Council and local voluntary sector to discuss what is currently being done to tackle loneliness in Nottingham and what the city should we prioritise, and why.
The discussion after a presentation from the Campaign was wide-ranging and lively. Suggestions ranged from re-opening pubs (as natural community hubs) on estates to working with employers to encourage employees to volunteer and ‘future-proof’ their lives against loneliness.
Forming an action group in the Cotswolds
The Campaign joined the District Council, local Dementia Alliance, sheltered housing schemes, befriending organisations, carers’ groups and Gloucestershire County Council Public Health and JSNA teams Council as they start a project to quantify the scale and nature of loneliness across their large rural population. A number of attendees volunteered to form a temporary action group on the issue, to ensure the Council’s research is a success, and benefits their work.
Launching campaigns in Wigan
The Campaign joined Age UK Wigan at the start of their bid to ensure that the local health and wellbeing board recognises the health implications of loneliness. Age UK Wigan brought together local authority officers, CCG and other charity representatives to have an initial discussion about what they need to be doing locally and how they could influence their board. Our role was to set the scene, show what was happening in other areas and to demonstrate the importance and necessity of finding joined up ways to address loneliness locally.
Please get in touch if you would like to learn more about what any of these areas have done, or let us know what you are doing in the comment box below!