Most people will feel lonely at some point in their lives, but if loneliness becomes chronic it can have a negative impact on both physical and mental health. It can affect anyone and is often triggered by transitions or sudden changes in our lives.
Here, we look at how our grantholders are adapting their services in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the changes we're all facing whilst living under lockdown.
A community response
Many people are responding by taking action in their local community to support and connect with others. We welcome this and are part of the Community Action Response campaign, which encourages people to do what they can.
- Charities are sharing tips on how best to support neighbours and friends, whilst ensuring everyone stays safe. Doing Good Leeds' Being a good neighbour pack gives top tips on offering help, looking after yourself and staying safe at home and online.
- Some groups are encouraging people to connect with their local community. Lack of contact can make people feel very fragile and we know that small moments of connection or gestures of kindness - from looking out for a neighbour, to smiling and saying hello - can make a big difference. FunPalaces brings local people together to share skills, culture and have fun. They are currently sharing practical suggestions for people to connect with their community.
- Some groups have already successfully set up community volunteering teams, like Ageing Well Torbay, which has set up a matching team to pair volunteers with people who would like contact.
- The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) provides comprehensive advice on involving and managing volunteers during the coronavirus outbreak, which includes pages on safeguarding and data protection, amongst others.
Making it ok to ask for help
We're all experiencing the effects of social distancing and shielding on our relationships and sense of self. Thousands of people who were active and well connected before are now adjusting to feeling more isolated.
But tackling loneliness can be tough. We know that, at the best of times, it may not easy to admit you feel lonely and people may not see themselves as isolated. Ironically, finding those who are most isolated can be a challenge too.
An important part of responding is by raising awareness, reducing stigma and encouraging people to seek help when they need it.
- Charities can help to spread the message that, “it’s ok not to be ok” and that many of us will need help during this unprecedented time. The Campaign to End Loneliness is sharing tips on staying in touch with family and friends on its website.
- Using positive language can be more effective than using terms with negative connotations, like “connection” instead of “loneliness”.
- Hearing from peers who share their experiences gives people someone to identify with. HeadStart Hull supports young people’s emotional health and wellbeing, and is enabling this through blogs written by young people, which describe how they are feeling and share tips on where to find support.
- Helping people to see that they are not alone. “Self-Isolation doesn't have to mean social isolation,” is the message of the Birchwood Centre in Lancashire during the crisis. The Centre usually offers support and accommodation for people at risk of social isolation, mental health crisis and homelessness. Now they are providing connection and support by phone and text, sharing positive messages with the people they support to reinforce the message, “you are not alone and we are all in this together.”
- We can encourage people to share positive, hopeful messages and symbols. The Friendly Bench is a social enterprise which sets up community gardens with built-in benches where people can chat. They've postponed face-to-face activities and are now encouraging connections through their children’s groups. Members create pictures and messages of hope which are shared online. The group is also posting online dancing sessions, theatre shows, drawing tasks and poems.
Maintaining relationships and interests
Enabling people to connect with existing networks and continue activities that are meaningful can help prevent loneliness from becoming a problem. Grantholders are finding creative ways to maintain and develop relationships and connections. They're adapting their offer, rather than simply moving what they normally do online.
Existing connections and interests
- Keeping in touch. Action for Elders, a national charity that works to end older people’s loneliness, has put in place a telephone support system to keep in touch.
- Signposting more people to services. The TED Ageing Better project in East Lindsey has distributed postcards in physical and digital formats to their contacts and partners. These give a dedicated phone number for each local area that people can ring to speak to a member of the team and opt in to weekly check-in calls.
- Continuing existing wellbeing activities. People are less likely to become lonely if they take part in activities they find enjoyable, interesting or fulfilling. The Brunswick Centre in Huddersfield provides support for LGBT+ young people. They’ve taken their group online with quiz sessions, singing workshops, and a film club. Arts 2 Heal usually run creative classes for wellbeing. They’ve distributed art packs to members with instructions on how to join virtual workshops. Participants are connecting by carrying out the same activity and then sharing their creations.
- Offering support and facilitation during online activities. Innovations in Dementia are using Zoom to take their Dementia Diaries project online. A staff member facilitates each session to help people connect and ensure the sessions work for everyone. The Warm and Toasty Club provides memory afternoons which they now run on their Facebook live page, hosted by the project worker.
- Increasing the number of sessions on offer. Challenging Behaviour Support CIC in Pontypridd supports parents of children with additional needs like ADHD, autism or dyslexia. They are continuing their 1-2-1 sessions and have added extra ways for parents to keep in touch and get emotional support, including a designated “time for a cuppa” where staff are available via Facebook for advice and support .
Creating new activities and connections
- Adapting and expanding services. B:friend in South Yorkshire matches volunteer befrienders with socially isolated older neighbours for weekly visits. They're now running new dial-in phone chat services and providing 'social bundles' containing poems, bird seed, games and sweets to keep people busy. In just ten days in March they created 48 new telephone befriending pairings, with over 240 existing befrienders telephoning and dropping-off essentials to people.
- Using letters and artwork to connect. We've funded the Mental Health Collective to set up a new national kindness by post exchange that will match people to send and receive handwritten letters of support and kindness along with “isolation hacks” - tips on how to survive staying at home. And Yopey, a dementia befriending charity, has set up a new Facebook group inviting young people to write letters, draw pictures or email photos to residents in locked-down care homes.
- Groups are also providing activities to keep people busy and encouraging them to connect and share what they’ve been up to. Toynbee Hall has created an online community centre, providing activities for anyone who is worried they'll be lonely or bored during isolation. Their free activities are accessible via Facebook and include shared reading, yoga and creative writing.
Our learning about tackling loneliness
The learning outlined below is based on what we know from our previous research on loneliness, and what we’re hearing right now from colleagues and grantholders.
- Giving is as beneficial as receiving. We've seen though Ageing Better that volunteering can increase the quantity and quality of older people's social connections, self-esteem and sense of purpose, and also contributes to improved levels of life satisfaction. Research funded through the #iWill campaign, set up to embed meaningful social action into the lives of 10 to 20 year olds, found that young people who volunteer also have higher levels of life satisfaction and stronger social networks.
- We’ve seen a huge show of community action and spirit that will help people to stay connected during this difficult time. But for people who aren’t used to giving support it could be easy to offer or take on too much and for those who have never needed help before, it may be difficult to know how to ask, and what to ask for. It can take more than one attempt to make a connection with someone who is isolated, so persistence is key.
- Some people may need support to access services that have moved online. The Friendly Bench is working with other organisations to make sure its new online services are open to everyone. It’s also working with others to translate Zoom instructions into other languages, so that people aren't excluded.
- Where possible, it is important to provide support when people need it. This might be outside the working week; people report being most lonely at times when others would be together, such as evenings and weekends, or times of celebration.
- Loneliness isn’t just about human contact. It can also include making sure people can continue to have their pets at home with them, or checking if people need pet food as well as other daily essentials. Queen’s Crescent Community Association in the London Borough of Camden has launched Fight C-19 - a pop-up facility which will provide a dog-walking service, alongside its other community support.
- If social distancing continues, groups should consider the longer-term effects. The initial feeling of goodwill, of everyone being “in it together,” may subside over time so it's important to try to think about the future whilst responding in the here and now.
- Bumping spaces, like community centres, parks and cafes are important in facilitating informal connections. Taking these online is one way to respond during the lockdown but it will be important to measure how people feel about these changes and how both physical and virtual meetings spaces can complement each other in the future.
We’re making sense of what we’re seeing and hearing from our grantholders at pace, so there’ll be things we’ve missed, haven’t noticed yet or, perhaps, misinterpreted.
We welcome comments or challenge, so that we can continuously improve and develop, and make this work practical and useful.
Please send feedback and suggestions on this content to firstname.lastname@example.org
This page was last updated: 22 April 2020