In January 2018, Theresa May appointed Tracey Crouch MP as the world’s first ‘Loneliness Minister’ in recognition of increasing concern about loneliness and social isolation among those of all ages. This includes recent references to the UK being the ‘loneliness capital of Europe’. One of the initial objectives of this role has been to produce a Loneliness Strategy and a consultation has been carried out with older people, charities and other key organisations to gather evidence, stories and ideas to inform this process.
As part of this consultation, Jeremy Sharpe, National Coordinator of Linking Lives UK met with the Head of Tackling Loneliness – part of Tracey Crouch’s team – along with Helen Wordsworth from Parish Nursing and Debbie Thrower from The Gift of Years. Jeremy explains “The meeting was a good opportunity to outline the work of our three charities in supporting older people who are struggling with loneliness or social isolation, as well as highlighting the current and potential role of churches and faith groups in local communities around the UK. It is often the case that the local church is the only source of community support, particularly in rural areas, and we all therefore have a crucial role to play in responding the issue of loneliness.
The Loneliness Strategy has now been published, and the official launch was held on Monday 15th October 2018 in Westminster. Jeremy attended the event at which Tracey Crouch outlined the key elements of the strategy as well as its main recommendations. The highlights include:
-Increased use of Social Prescribing in which GP’s can recommend engagement with various activities which address loneliness such as cookery classes, walking clubs and art groups.
-Piloting of a partnership with Royal Mail in which postal staff look out for those who may be socially isolated and take necessary action
-Embedding the subject of ‘loneliness’ into relationship education in primary and secondary schools
The strategy also acknowledges the key role that faith groups play on a local level explaining that:
‘The most effective answer to the challenge of loneliness is the simple decision of families, friends, faith groups and communities to include each other and to be open to new social connections.’
With this in mind, during the past year, a group of ten national Christian charities, working in the field of loneliness and isolation among older people has been meeting to share ideas and coordinate activity where possible. The group, known as Christians Together Against Loneliness (CTAL) is working collectively to raise awareness of this issue and they will be exploring opportunities which exist for churches and individual Christians to respond to this strategy through new or existing initiatives. Jeremy adds “the church has a distinctive role to play in coming alongside and caring for those often on the margins of society, and we can all continue to play our part in addressing this increasingly important issue”.
A case study from one Linking Lives project in London was used within the strategy (page 4) as an example of the impact that regular visits can have on volunteers and older people:
Stephen is 86 years old. He has two sons whom he sees infrequently because they do not live close by. He misses male camaraderie, especially because of his loss of independence through ill health. Phillip is 35, and his father lives abroad. Linking Lives UK who work with churches to set up befriending projects brought them together. A close bond has developed between them. Stephen refers to it as a confessional! They exchange close problems and discuss shared interests, such as music and sport. Phillip is expecting his first child shortly and hopes Stephen will become the surrogate grandfather as his father will not see him very often. ‘Stephen says, ‘Phillip’s visits have made a huge difference to my life and outlook and mood and I always so look forward to him visiting.â
(Real identities not used, and also not featured in the photograph).
Linking Lives UK currently has 24 partner projects being run by churches or Christian organisations across the UK, each of which arranges for volunteers to visit older people in their own home, as well as encouraging engagement in local social events and activities. Churches receive all necessary training, advice, documents and policies required to establish a project, as well as ongoing support.
For further details about setting up a Linking Lives project, please contact Jeremy Sharpe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07970 100131.
Here is a radio interview held with UCB Radio on 15th OctoberÂ 2018.
Image by www.kerto.studio