It was great to start 2020 with Loneliness Action Group colleagues sharing our work on tackling loneliness, and looking forward to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Loneliness enquiry. Connected communities and community resilience was talked about by many, so let’s remember that these are built on strong voluntary and community action at a local and neighbourhood level, as well as a conducive policy environment. Commitment to funding, supporting and championing community organisations and community development is critical to take government commitments beyond work on measurement and evidence.

The national Loneliness Action Group, convened by the British Red Cross, took place last week. It’s good to see that the All Party Parliamentary Group on Loneliness is picking up pace this year and there will be a fuller enquiry-style work programme. I hope that the excellent Rachel Reeves MP will continue as chair, and looking forward to contributing evidence in spring.

Government continue to focus on building the national conversation via #LetsTalkLoneliness and this chimes with the government’s own 1 year on report on the Loneliness Strategy published last week. In my view this is pretty light on content, for the most part describing communications work rather than significant steps forward, reflecting the political environment of the last year.

We also heard from other national organisations on their work. I’m particularly interested in the NLCF’s evidence library that they are bringing together on loneliness and social isolation – presumably an update of their existing Insights work.

We really need stronger representation of the experience of local delivery organisations in practical work on tackling loneliness in the policy and influencing activities. It’s good to see that there’s a plan for the APPG to have regional events. I’d also like to see a link between the Loneliness Action Group, the APPG work and the Health Wellbeing Alliance.

It was really noticeable to me that I heard much talk at the Loneliness Action Group of commitment to community connectedness and community resilience, but little reflection that this is very often down to the local voluntary sector, and Community Development in particular. The importance of long term commitment to communities in the form of funding and trusting local community development organisations and wider VCS really cannot be overestimated.

There was also very little mention of volunteers or volunteering as part of the way that loneliness can be addressed, both in terms of being something tackle brings people together per se and in what can be achieved through work delivered with volunteers.

Social Prescribing continues to be discussed as part of the response to Loneliness, and I agree that this is absolutely part of the picture. We are currently rolling out phase one of delivery of Social Prescribing Link Workers within our local Primary Care Networks, and we plan to share our experiences of doing so. There are a whole series of challenges to address such as bringing together what is explicitly a non-medical approach with the aspirations of NHS England on personalised care, and nurturing what is at the heart of what makes social prescribing work (trusted relationships, good information, time) while scaling up. Exciting times and much to share in the weeks ahead. 

By Jo Crease, CEO of Brighton’s loneliness charity, Together Co


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