“Smile awhile and while you smile – another smiles, and soon there are miles and miles of smiles and life’s worthwhile because you smile.” Kathleen J. Edgar
• How often do you feel that you lack companionship?
• How often do you feel left out?
• How often do you feel isolated from others?
• How often do you feel lonely?
These are questions the Office for National Statistics will be asking in their forthcoming survey.
Do you? And if so what do you do to stop the feeling? In my life, the two times I have felt most lonely were in 1999 when I moved for work from Liverpool (arguably the friendliest city in the UK) to Leeds (where people are lovely but far more reserved). And when I had my first child in 2007 and quickly realised being a mum to a baby, for me, was not like in the TV adverts. It’s all good now, I think I enjoy the company of children from age 2 and upwards.
Occasional feelings of loneliness are part of the human condition but what should be done when loneliness becomes chronic or extreme?
Last autumn the North Yorkshire Wider Partnership Conference focused on neighbourly communities, creating and strengthening connections. The conference explored the impacts of loneliness and isolation on our communities and sought to find local solutions. This coincided with the publication of the national strategy to tackle loneliness “A connected society: laying the foundations for change”. Since then Community First Yorkshire has secured a significant grant from the Big Lottery to develop and deliver a strategy to tackle loneliness in North Yorkshire.
Community First Yorkshire are working with a range of partners, including North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC), to develop and deliver the strategy. Outputs will include a project to deliver on a recommendation made by Lincoln Sargeant, Director of Public Health at NYCC in his 2017 Director of Public Health annual report, Healthy Transitions; to encourage people to consider their social retirement alongside financial planning.
One of the first steps to delivering this, is to understand the experience of loneliness in North Yorkshire. Nationally produced data point to groups who report higher levels of loneliness.
• 5% of adults are lonely – 30,000 people in North Yorkshire
• Younger adults report higher levels of loneliness – 52,000 16-24 year olds in North Yorkshire
• People who are single – 132,000
• Or widowed – 39,000
• People in poor health – 29,000
• People who rent – 72,000
• People who feel they belong less strongly to their neighbourhoods (no figures)
• Children entitled to free school meals – 6,000
These numbers point to the scale of the issue but next we need to understand more deeply the risk and protective factors which contribute to loneliness in order to gather greater intelligence which we can use to target our work. The What Works Centre for Wellbeing has suggested events or triggers which could push people into feeling lonely at different parts of life. These may include: starting school, teenage pressures, leaving university, leaving school, bullying, moving to another country or city, moving home, uncertainty about the future, refugees awaiting asylum trials, being diagnosed and living with a health condition or disability, becoming a parent, children leaving care, homelessness, older people moving into care, children moving away from home, caring for family members, bereavement, getting divorced, changing job, family breakdown, employment and retirement.
What can we do to combat loneliness? What should we do to combat loneliness? I’ve often chuckled to myself when a very senior colleague has commented “I do not expect NYCC to have a role in sorting out my love life”, and I agree, but what can we do, alongside our partners and communities, to help create places and communities which can protect against loneliness? What can we do personally in responding to our own loneliness and that of others? How do we feel about taking a risk and opening up to the possibility of friendship?
There is a lot of work happening in North Yorkshire already – work in the Upper Dales to make it the best community in England to grow old in, the work of Stronger Communities, North Yorkshire Connect and Living Well team which aim to connect people and communities. Huge amounts of activity we are becoming more aware of through our Age Friendly engagement activity – not least the University of the Third Age. I’m sure you are aware of many other examples.
So, work is underway to produce the strategy to combat loneliness in North Yorkshire. A partnership group led by Community First Yorkshire are currently working to pull together data, evidence and stories. A document will be published in October – and the understanding gathered during this process will inform an action plan.
Depending on what we find in terms of need, actions may include:
• working together to create youth club type activity;
• encouraging intergenerational work;
• campaigns to support people to be more friendly and supportive; and
• supporting people planning for retirement to consider their social lives.
We are interested to hear from as wide a group as possible:
• who do you think experiences most loneliness in North Yorkshire?
• what are the key triggers?
• can you share good examples of combatting loneliness?
• what action do you think colleagues and communities across North Yorkshire could take to tackle loneliness?
For more information and to share your thoughts please contact Kathryn.Ingold@northyorks.gov.uk
Follow Kathryn on twitter @kathryningold