People have the power to force change on loneliness, workshop told

George Wood, of York Older People's Assembly.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
George Wood, of York Older People's Assembly. Picture Bruce Rollinson
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PEOPLE have the power to stop social isolation and loneliness in their own communities, a workshop on the issue heard.

The Yorkshire and Humber forum on ageing, Future Years, brought together experts in the field, community groups and health and social care organisations for a workshop on loneliness and social isolation in Sheffield yesterday.

Coun Shelagh Marshall address the Future Years workshop''Picture Bruce Rollinson

Coun Shelagh Marshall address the Future Years workshop''Picture Bruce Rollinson

There, delegates from across the region were told that older people had the power to influence change within the social care system.

George Wood of York Older People’s Assembly, who is also a member of Future Years, spoke about the important role local forums and partnership boards can have on influencing the work of the region’s health and wellbeing boards, which produce strategies which set out the priorities for local authority-led health and social care for the coming years.

Groups should also be familiar with the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment in their area, which look at the current and future health and care needs of local populations, to ensure tackling loneliness and social isolation is included.

But he also said there was a role for individuals to play in tackling loneliness.

“We can all play a part, and sometimes it just about contact,” he said. “If you live in a community and are aware of someone who is lonely, and an activity they might enjoy, invite them and take them along. Making that initial phone call or walking into an event on their own can be the biggest barrier.”

The workshop, which was hosted by North Yorkshire councillor and chairman of Future Years, Shelagh Marshall, was held to give people from voluntary groups, organisations and individuals a greater understanding of health and wellbeing structures, which have seen vast changes in recent years.

It also examined the impact of loneliness and social isolation and what people can do to change it, as well as providing practical examples of support services.

Groups represented at the workshop included Voluntary Action Sheffield, Age UK Calderdale and Kirklees, Dementia Action Alliance and Sheffield 50+.

Also speaking was George Parkin, programme lead for South Yorkshire Housing Association’s £6m lottery funded Ageing Better project.

Over six years, it will introduce new initiatives across Sheffield aimed at reducing social isolation in those who are most affected. Among the innovative approaches that will be used include an intergenerational skill swap, which will pair younger people with older people at risk of isolation.

People who have suffered from social isolation in the past will be help develop and evaluate the project to ensure it is reaching the people it needs to in the best way possible.

He said: “We don’t have a monopoly on good ideas, we have to work with people who know what works best in each area.”

Future Years will hold eight further workshops on loneliness, which Coun Marshall said was hugely damaging to health. Research links loneliness with increased rates of depression and dementia, raised blood pressure, and can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Coun Marshall said: “Loneliness is a problem that is only going to grow, and if we don’t tackle it now, in 20 years time it will be a lot worse.

“It does seem that people are a lot more aware of the issue now, partly due to the work of campaigns like The Yorkshire Post’s, but we can’t stop now, just as people are starting to listen.”

Campaigning for change

The Yorkshire Post wants loneliness to be universally recognised as a health priority in our communities.

We launched the Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign in February 2014 after revealing how it affects 91,300 older people in our region. Back then, nine of the region’s health and wellbeing boards failed to give significant mention of loneliness and social isolation in their overarching strategies, a crucial document that sets out priorities for health and social care for the coming years.

Seven of these have now pledged action, but we want a firm commitment from all local authorities to tackle.