Loneliness summit faces the challenge of keeping people connected

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THE CHALLENGES of keeping residents in Yorkshire’s biggest city connected were discussed when experts came together for a conference examining the issues of loneliness and social isolation in Leeds.

More than 120 people from voluntary organisations, the health and social care system and academics joined Leeds Council staff today to look at how the city could build on services already in place to tackle the issue.

Coun Lisa Mulherin, the chair of the health and wellbeing board opens the event'''Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Coun Lisa Mulherin, the chair of the health and wellbeing board opens the event'''Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

The conference was hosted by the city’s Health and Wellbeing Board, which is preparing to write a new strategy which will help to guide health and social care spending within the council and other partner organisations.

Despite being nationally applauded for its work on isolation, the council previously came under fire for not writing tackling loneliness in its current Health and Wellbeing Strategy.

Coun Lisa Mulherin, said this previous strategy, which was more over-arching, would be replaced by a new document informed by what people across the city had told them was important to them - including some of the ideas shared at the conference.

She said: “We know that social isolation makes a huge difference, whether you’re a mum at home with a new baby, or an older person who has suffered a bereavement. We have an all-age strategy and we want to ensure that throughout that, we take into account the impact of the social connections that people have, and how through supporting groups through Neighbourhood Networks, or tots groups in children’s centres, we can make a difference and by working with communities themselves to make individual connections with their neighbours, with their family, and the city can become a much healthier, happier place.”

The unloneliness conference gets underway at Leeds Civic Hall.'''Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe.

The unloneliness conference gets underway at Leeds Civic Hall.'''Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe.

The conference heard from University of Leeds researcher Dr Sarah Alden, who spoke to 90 older people across three areas that had been identified as where people might be at risk of social isolation - Armley, Gipton and Wetherby.

They found that mapping social isolation was only useful when individual factors like disability and community services were taken into account.

The conference also heard from Stacy Bostock, who took part in a Joseph Rowntree Foundation research project in York. She said that while volunteers can make a great impact on reducing loneliness, bureaucracy and regulations can be problematic, and gave an example of a community researcher having her benefits sanctioned after she volunteered for the project,

“That’s exactly the kind of problem that can be a hammer blow for making a positive difference for people trying to break out of the cycle of isolation and loneliness,” she added.

Campaigning to continue

The Yorkshire Post has been campaigning to raise awareness of the issue of loneliness since February 2014.

Evidence suggests loneliness can contribute to depression, dementia and heart disease.

Speaking at the Unloneliness conference today, Lindsay Pantry, the lead reporter on Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic, said campaigning would not stop.

“During the last 18 months we have been able to report on many positive developments being made to tackle loneliness, but there is still a long way to go,” she said. “With an ageing population and a depleted social care system, the issue is only going to grow.”