Over recent years, the issue of loneliness (particularly amongst older people) has increasingly been described in the media as an ‘epidemic’. Over half (51%) of all people aged 75 and over live alone (ONS, 2010), and 10 per cent of the general population aged over 65 in the UK is lonely all or most of the time (Safeguarding the Convoy, Campaign to End Loneliness 2011). The Campaign to End Loneliness emphasises that ‘as our population ages, the risk of social isolation for people aged 65 and over is increasingly becoming a major public health issue. There will be two million more single person households by 2019, and social trust in the UK is now among the lowest in Europe’.

Loneliness has been defined as the subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship. It happens when we have a mismatch between the quantity and quality of social relationships that we have, and those that we want (Perlman and Peplau, 1981)

  1. Emotional loneliness is felt when we miss the companionship of one particular person; often a spouse, sibling or best friend.
  2. Social loneliness is experienced when we lack a wider social network or group of friends.

To view statistics in larger format, click on ‘Spotlight on Loneliness in the UK’ (Campaign to End Loneliness)



There is increasing national and international evidence of the negative impact that loneliness and isolation can have on quality of life. Recent reports highlight the effects of loneliness on biological, physical, and mental health and one found that there was a 50% increased likelihood of survival for those with strong social connections.
The same study found that having weak social connections carried a health risk equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic. Loneliness is also considered more harmful than not exercising and twice as harmful as obesity.
(Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review)



Linking Lives UK is a Christian charity working with churches and Christian agencies to reach some of the most socially isolated older people in the UK. We are specifically looking to focus our work in some of the highest priority areas as defined by Age UK in their Loneliness Heatmap research findings.

Our core approach involves linking volunteers (who are fully vetted and interviewed) with older people requesting regular home visits. These visits are carried out once a week or once a fortnight and last for between one and two hours. Link Friends are primarily identified through referrals from social workers, GP’s, health visitors, other health/social care professionals and from family members/ friends. Following a referral, an initial assessment is carried out which enables an understanding of the Link Friend’s priorities, health issues and existing sources of support and engagement to be understood. Following the initial assessment, the aim is to match a suitable volunteer with the Link Friend. This process is carried out by considering the location, interests and any hobbies of Link Friends and volunteers available.

Volunteers can also take their friend on occasional outings and other social events and activities may also be arranged regularly by the local scheme. These visits often become a highlight of the week for all involved and result in huge benefits to health and wellbeing.

We are able to provide a comprehensive and practical toolkit for churches looking to set up such a project which is based on a successful tried and tested approach. This includes access to training, guidance in establishing a scheme appropriate to local circumstances, operational template documents and ongoing support and updated resources once set up. On a local level, we encourage our partners to build links with key organisations in the community as a source of referrals and also to avoid duplication of effort.

Our aim is to significantly improve quality of life for as many isolated people as we can by developing new schemes year on year. Using professional, and yet informal systems and processes in a way which is safe for both clients and volunteers, local schemes also become well established in the wider life of the local community.



Linking Lives UK was nominated by Cinnamon Network for an award at the 2016 Christian Funders Forum Awards event in Lambeth Palace, and we received the Silver Award in our category of ‘Best Replicable Project’.
To find out more about our existing and ‘pipeline’ projects, go to our Linking Lives UK Projects Map.