In the autumn the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness will be drawing together a manifesto for loneliness drawing on the year of major activities they’ve promoted throughout 2017. What should it say?
Here’s my starter for 10. Though based on my experience campaigning on loneliness in older age – many of these ideas may be applicable across the life course and where the focus is on community building – all should benefit.
These ideas are based on a number of founding principles:
A) That individuals have as much to give as they have to receive and that the distinction between the two is blurred but when individuals feel they have less to offer they are also less able to ask for help. So notions of recognising self-worth, building psychological resilience and reciprocity are just as important as schemes and services.
B) That all support is person-centred not prescriptive. ‘Not done to’ thank you very much.
C) That community and belonging are self-identified and voluntary, allowing the individual to engage as much or as little as they like. That community is not just defined by place but also by a web of crisscrossing relationships and a commitment to shared values, meaning and identity.
D) That statutory or voluntary agencies can help map and facilitate community but not create or manage them, and that new mechanisms to support and develop networks need to build on the mapping of existing networks and be co-produced with communities and that the very act of co-production has inherent value.
E) That tackling isolation and loneliness has benefits to well-being, health, civic society and democracy and that local strategies need to integrate health and well-being approaches with community development and social support – rather than operating in separate spheres. This means greater integration between Sustainability and Transformation Plans, Clinical Commissioning Groups and public health in consultation with communities.
F) That anything new that is initiated needs to not be worthy and dull but engage the spirit, give moments of joy, silliness, laughter and absorption – the things that foster bonds of friendship and fun. That’s based on my experience at the Baring Foundation funding arts and older people projects which involve a huge spectrum of visual and digital arts, music, dance, sculpture – you name it – which deliver pleasure in themselves but also challenge expectations of old age and capacity, give voice, make the walls of care homes and housing invisible, knock down stereotypes and build friendship and community. So if in doubt, start with a party, a ceremony or a festival!
So here’s my starter for 10 wish list:
1) A national ‘Acts of Kindness’ movement
The Campaign to End Loneliness is planning to roll this campaign out in 2017 in selected pilot areas – critical will be its capacity to generate meaningful and sustained community engagement. My first thought is it’s not just about asking people to give their time and energy, but also including some specific local ‘asks’ or challenges to engage and inspire. Based on the belief that sometimes the best way to engage lonely people is to ask for their skills and help.
Building on the ‘Great Get together’ led by the Commission and the Big Lunch in honour of Jo Cox, as an annual event – similar to a National Neighbour day – which brings together communities in local celebrations, festivals and street parties. Everyone should be involved from faith groups, to voluntary organisations, local businesses to arts organisations. Close the roads, stop the streets, open your doors, set up the band, speak to someone you’ve never spoken to before. And make sure those who are housebound or caring are able to participate too!
If it’s not going to be fun – ask why not.
2) National strategy – just that – a National Loneliness Prevention Strategy – to set out a vision of connected and inclusive communities in which everyone can contribute their skills, knowledge and experience and have a voice and a framework for statutory bodies to facilitate hyper local empowerment whilst linking statutory and community assets.
3) Strengthening communities:
- To build on current models – for example Age Friendly Cities and Age Friendly Museums that maximize the value from existing publicly funded services - and engage communities to develop local strategies to include:
- Infrastructure services – community spaces, places and facilities, transport, car share, broadband
- Community channels – community TV, radio, noticeboards – web and real world to connect communities and be ‘hyper local’
- Community mapping of local networks and local assets, public private and voluntary sector – including churches, village halls, sports clubs, supermarket cafes, pubs, community centres, lunch clubs, town halls and arts spaces, galleries
4) Community based commissioning – establishing 2 tiers of investment
i) Community development funding via Community Foundations and Trusts in collaboration with local authorities and communities – identifying community development strategies and core funding for local networks and resources
ii) ‘Community chest’ funds - set up to match or seed new community initiatives with contributions not just from public money but from business and philanthropy – gardening schemes, festivals, choirs, skills exchanges and other asset based approaches as described above… With particular emphasis on groups that are locally driven, engaging the energy of peer groups, and encouraging reciprocity and shared endeavour.
5) Engaging local populations in co-production of asset based approaches relevant to local needs. For instance:
Signposters and navigators – schemes which direct individuals to existing local activities and resources and support them to engage with those that appeal to their passions and interests. For example:
- Community navigators
- Community catalysts
- Statutory agency signposting – e.g. by police, and fire services and pharmacies
Coordination and mapping – projects which build a knowledge bank of the assets in local communities to make connections between them, identify gaps and make them available to everyone. For example:
- Local area coordination
- Wellbeing teams
Reconnections and social prescriptions – schemes which support individuals to re-engage with local activities in a sustainable way and with their capacity and agency in mind. For example:
- Social prescriptions and arts on prescription
- Reconnections services
Reciprocal peer support – schemes which enable people to engage with each other, share their passions and interests, support each other and have fun! For example:
- Community circles and Circles of support and ‘Villages’ models
One to one support – approaches which offer support to those with higher end needs, those who may have experienced sustained or chronic loneliness, who may be housebound, or who need to support to re-build their confidence.
- Telephone or Face to Face Befriending services
- Call groups
- Resilience/ psychological support
Home interventions – options that enable people to share their homes and families or which make a communal home part of the community.
- Shared Lives and homeshare
- Inclusive housing and care homes – initiatives like ‘A Choir in Every Care Home’ ‘Cocktails in Care Homes’ and ‘Henpower’ which embed housing and care homes in the community as hubs, making the walls disappear and bringing vitality into a housing or care setting
We need to recognise that one size does not fit all. So a range of approaches is valuable and will be more meaningful. Someone who has been profoundly lonely for a long period of time needs a different type of support to someone who is experiencing a short term dip after an illness, caring or bereavement.
6) Trigger tests and social health kits – linked to the Acts of Kindness movement and National Neighbour day
– a loneliness ‘trigger checklist’ for people themselves, family, friends, neighbours, doctors, pharmacists, social workers and ‘what to do next’ signposting to community navigators and social and psychological support, for those at risk of loneliness – could apply equally to new mothers, home leavers and the divorced as to those becoming a carer, retiring, being bereaved, affected by illness or disability or suffering sensory impairment.
- social health kit – for those at risk, with useful self help tips to nudge you to invest in and safeguard your social well-being. With nudges and special offers – to stay active, take notice, stay connected, take up new interests, keep learning, volunteer and meet your spiritual needs. So for example, someone coming up to retirement wouldn’t just be encouraged to plan their finances but also to plan their social life and wellbeing. With useful thought provokers on how to have purpose and feel valued, to develop social resilience, how to use or extend your skills, whether through part time work, volunteering, starting a business, education or new interests. With useful starters for 10 like –
- I’ve always wanted to learn to….
- I’d like to share my skills to…..
- I’d like to help shape my local ……..
- I’d like to work in…..
- I’d like to volunteer/give my time to…
- I’d like to meet….
- I’d like to join…..
- I want to keep contact with….
- I need to ………. to stay active and healthy
- I need to ….. to meet my spiritual needs
7) Continued sharing of ‘what works’ in terms of new approaches and services to reduce isolation and loneliness – through the Campaign to End Loneliness.
- sharing the learning between major initiatives like Ageing Better, Promising Approaches, Reconnections and the burgeoning social enterprise market and understanding how each reduce loneliness, build capacity and engage energies
8) A ‘marriage bureau’ – which pairs new social enterprises with established voluntary or community organisations or champions to ensure new initiatives tap into existing knowledge and good practice, embed into existing community networks and share their new ideas. Too many new great ideas fail because they can’t find the clients as they are not embedded in local networks. Too many traditional charities fail to innovate or ‘test and learn’ new approaches and many simply don’t have the capacity or funding to continue to innovate.
9) Continued investment in the social finance premium ( including the Reclaim Fund) funded by the Government from dormant accounts, business and social investors – joint investment funds to invest in outcomes models of new ideas and innovation and generate shared learning – not just new enterprises but also existing organisations wanting to work in new ways.
10) The costs of loneliness – dissemination of the health economics of early intervention, the pioneering work done by Social Finance and the London School of Economics, and continued research in this area via the Research Hub of the Campaign to End Loneliness to inform the national loneliness prevention strategy. And sharing of metrics on the costs of different service models and measures of their effectiveness in reducing loneliness.
Janet Morrison is Chair of Campaign to End Loneliness and Chief Executive of Independent Age.