It would be fair to say that loneliness is a ‘hot’ topic right now. A subject that until in recent years was plugged as a something that only elderly people, and perhaps the stereotypical ‘woman with ten cats’, lived with. The latter being a source for amusement as opposed to concern in most instances.
In 2016 to 2017, there were 5% of adults in England who reported feeling lonely ‘often’ or ‘always’. That’s a scary fact. What is becoming increasingly obvious in today’s society is that while we are connected in more ways than we can shake a hashtag at, it does not equate to the benefits that come from human interaction, the comfort of a hug or simply having a conversation. I recently upgraded my phone, and the last thing that concerned me was how many minutes they could offer me. Talk to me about Internet plans and 5G upgrades if you want my full attention.
Technology is everywhere. Buy a loaf of bread and you have a computer squawking about an unexpected item in your bagging area. Check in at the doctors and you have a screen waiting for you. Which is great if you are in a rush or just don’t fancy a chat that day. Not so much if that visit to the doctors or pop to the shop was your only opportunity for conversation.
Latest statistics show that people are also relying on technology for company. Latest statistics from the Rotary Great Britain and Ireland ‘State of the Nation’ report found that 7% of people rely on ‘Siri’ or ‘Alexa’ to talk to and 62% put the television or radio on for a backdrop of conversation.
We have gotten to a stage of existence where we very well be able to make robots that can dance and make a cuppa tea (and, let’s face it – will most likely take over the world some day) but in the process, we are forgetting the importance of people and isolating ourselves from the basic necessity of human interaction. Why phone someone, when you can text them instead?
The most important thing to recognise is that loneliness epidemic is effecting all age groups. While young people of today may have the reputation of caring more about Instagram opportunities than having a conversation, there is a knock-on effect that sparks a whole new wave of anxiety about totting up ‘likes’ and the constant comparison to people they haven’t even met and, 10-years ago, would never have even been on their radar. In a study released last year, 11.3% of children aged 10-15 and 9.8% of young people aged 16 to 24 said that they were ‘often’ lonely.
Like many health and social issues, the root of the problem often lies in local provision and tailored support that not only considers, but caters to, personal circumstance. ONS figures state that people who feel that they belong less strongly to their neighbourhood report feeling lonely more often, as well as people in poor health or with conditions they describe as ‘limiting’.
The Rotary report states that currently only 16% get involved in groups or volunteering to help meet new people, whereas nearly one fifth (19%) said they would like to join a group but wouldn’t know how to or where to look.
What’s clear is that locally-led intervention and provision can provide the first step towards curing loneliness in communities through projects that encourage, inspire and enable local people to come together and benefit from a cohesive community.
Groundwork volunteer, Tom Cunningham has lived in Blackpool for over 20 years. After a back injury affected his ability to work, Tom became long-term unemployed. Being out of work affected Tom’s self-esteem. At first he couldn’t afford to socialise. As his confidence ebbed away, he stopped wanting to go out and became increasingly isolated.
I had no friends, I wouldn’t talk to anyone. The only people I ever talked to was to say hello to the shopkeeper.
The turning point for Tom came when he heard about a community food growing network called Grow Blackpool, which is managed by Groundwork and funded by Blackpool Council Public Health. It runs regular sessions at community growing sites across Blackpool where people can come along and not only learn new skills and make new friends, but also improve their health and well-being.
They always ask me: when are you coming back? Because we need you. It’s positive to me, that I’m part of the team.
Put the kettle on!
A community centre at its very basic level can be a room with chairs and a kettle to facilitate a conversation, a local park or greenspace can be a patch of land where you can kick a ball about, sit on a bench or meet a fellow parent for a chat and a sandwich. All of these things add up to putting support in place to help people step out of their front door, meet new people and make new friends.
As a society, we all benefit from well-maintained places and spaces. And the longer it takes for everyone to not only recognise the benefit that comes from grassroots support, but proactively ensure it’s a reality, the more the loneliness cloud will continue to hover over people who need a friendly face the most.
Published in partnership with Groundwork UK