Innovative approach helps win £6m for loneliness work

NEW APPROACH: Cocktail parties, like this one at White Willows assisted living community, will be used to help people at risk of loneliness.
NEW APPROACH: Cocktail parties, like this one at White Willows assisted living community, will be used to help people at risk of loneliness.
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Cocktail parties and selfie booths sparked a £6m investment in a campaign to tackle loneliness among older people in Sheffield.

More than 12,000 of Sheffield’s most socially isolated people will benefit from the funding South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA) has received from the Big Lottery Fund.

The cash is part of an £82m Ageing Better fund, which also saw £6m go to loneliness projects in Leeds, and will see SYHA lead 11 organisations using creative and innovative methods to engage over 50s at the highest risk of loneliness.

The devastating health effects of loneliness were first revealed by The Yorkshire Post in February when we launched a campaign urging local authorities to recognise its impact on health and wellbeing.

Sheffield is aiming to become a recognised centre of excellence for services that reduce loneliness, using knowledge sharing and spreading good practice across the UK and internationally, by 2021.

Juliann Hall, Care Health and Wellbeing Director for SYHA said the investment would help make “a real difference” to the lives of older people in the city, creating vital new projects that prevent and reduce loneliness.

SYHA spoke to more than 500 older people in developing the project, using creative methods like 20s-themed cocktail parties, selfie-booths, on-the-buses interviews and spoken-word events.

Mrs Hall said: “These imaginative and non-traditional methods sparked revealing conversations about the causes of loneliness, while challenging perceptions of what it means to grow older in our city.”

“We know that loneliness has a terrible effect: doubling the risk of dementia, tripling the risk of heart conditions and having an effect on mortality equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Over the course of this 6-year project, we aim to empower over 12,000 older people in Sheffield to co-design and co-deliver lasting solutions to this problem.”

The partnership will also train 1,000 frontline workers including housing officers, community pharmacists and supermarket staff to ‘Make Every Contact Count’ by recognising loneliness and linking at risk older people with Ageing Better champions.

A Loneliness Index will be used to target interventions and ensure services will be better planned, better coordinated and better delivered for those most in need. Local communities will also be encouraged to help as 43,000 neighbourhood toolkits will be distributed to inspire community action.

Older people themselves will be trained to help other isolated older people access social activities. Opportunities such as project auditors/peer researchers and mentoring beneficiaries will be available.

More detailed projects will start next spring, with the entire project lasting six years.