Addressing Loneliness in Wales

21.03.2024

Loneliness & Social Isolation in Wales

Loneliness and social isolation particularly among older people has been seen as a significant issue affecting physical, emotional and mental health across the UK in many settings for several years now. Whilst there are high levels of loneliness amongst people of all ages, according to the latest National Survey for Wales almost three quarters of people aged over 65 (72%) report feeling lonely ‘sometimes’, while 10% of older people in Wales – an estimated 91,000 people – feel ‘consistently’ lonely.[1]

As a result, the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, In December 2023, called for ‘greater support for community-based and third sector groups and organisations that help to prevent loneliness and social isolation through their work, recognising the vital outreach and activities they deliver and the crucial role they play in supporting older people’s health, well-being and independence’. [2]

Background to Linking Lives UK

Linking Lives UK is a national Christian charity working to reduce loneliness and social isolation in partnership with churches, Christian organisations and local community groups. This is achieved by developing befriending projects on a local level either based on home visits, telephone befriending or a mix of the two.

The approach is based on a model which has been working successfully in Berkshire for 25 years and which began as a church-based community project. In each local area, Linking Lives UK provides necessary training about befriending and the role of volunteers as well as making template documents and processes available to local partners. Once established, volunteers visit or call one person (who will have been referred to the project by a local social/ health professional or family member) on a weekly basis. There are currently 40 of these befriending projects operating across the UK.

We also run regular training courses aimed at volunteers who have roles engaging with attendees at community cafés, drop-in centres or lunch clubs. These sessions called ‘Good Conversations’ are usually run online and last for 2 hours. Finally, our ‘Power of One’ monthly webinar focuses on inspiring and equipping individuals with hints and tips to engage with people in their day to day lives who may be experiencing loneliness.

Strategic aims in Wales

We are aware that there is much activity across many parts of Wales both in the faith sector and wider statutory and voluntary sector. We been working with a number of partners and are continuing to explore opportunities for a partnership with other local churches. Linking Lives is looking to complement existing initiatives which specifically address loneliness and social isolation.

In order to achieve these aims, we recognise that it is crucial for us to work on a local level with a physical presence in Wales so as to be able to build relationships of trust with key agencies and to ease communication. Our plan, therefore, is to recruit a National Development Manager (NDM) for Wales during 2024 whose focus will be on scoping existing work being carried out across the country. He/ she will then identify possible areas of synergy where a partnership between local churches, Christian organisations and other agencies will enable new befriending projects to emerge. We are excited to have recently secured a three-year grant from Benefact Trust which will contribute towards the project and we will be exploring other potential sources of funding to make this a reality.

Specific objectives will be as follows:

  • Set up a total of 25 befriending schemes in Wales within three years reaching 300 older people and adults and recruiting 125 volunteers.
  • Enable 5 churches per year to receive training for 30 volunteers to operate effectively in informal community-based settings using our ‘Good Conversations’ training framework.
  • Train a minimum of 13 volunteers to support older people on their spiritual journeys (within a Christian context).

 

Next steps

We have recently completed the first equivalent phase of such a project in Scotland and a National Development Manager began working in April 2023.

This will provide a blueprint for similar work to be initiated in Wales and we are working towards employing someone to an equivalent role in Wales as soon as further funds have been raised.

We are now looking to recruit a short-term consultant in Wales who can coordinate some initial planning and preparation for the project. Please see the advert below for details of this role. The deadline for proposals is Friday 10th May 2024.

We are excited at the existing interest and potential which exists to address this crucial issue and we look forward to building partnerships which enable this vision to become a reality.

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[1] Welsh Government (2022) National Survey for Wales April 2021 to March 2022

[2] ‘Briefing – Tackling Loneliness & Isolation in Wales’ Older People’s Commissioner for Wales December 2023

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