North Yorkshire's voluntary sector '˜critical' in fight against loneliness

RETIREES flock there in search of the rural idyll in later life, but some find the reality can be lonely and isolating - especially after the death of a spouse.

Guest speaker Kim Leadbeater with North Yorkshire County Council Leader Councillor Carl Les (left) and County Council Chief Executive Richard Flinton at the authority's Wider Partnership Conference.

Now a concerted drive to tackle loneliness across England’s largest county is seeing the local authority join forces with the “critical” voluntary sector and private organisations in bid to make communities better connected.

The efforts by North Yorkshire Country Council were launched in Harrogate on Friday, less than two weeks after Prime Minister Theresa May launched the Government’s first ever strategy on loneliness.

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Kim Leadbeater, the sister of murdered Batley MP Jo Cox, and an ambassador for the foundation bearing her name, shared her experiences of bringing the public, private and voluntary sector together to tackle loneliness.

“We don’t have all the answers,” she said. “What we have done is very much based on emotion and instinct and the desire to do something good, but the results have been fantastic. I guess the challenge is how do you replicate that sort of stuff without the starting point that we had.

“We are very good as human beings at responding when things go wrong, we are good at dealing with tragedy and coming together, but how can we create that naturally? We should be like that all the time. That is one of our challenges going forward.”

North Yorkshire Country Council Leader Coun Carl Les told the Yorkshire Post, which has been campaigning on the issue of loneliness since 2014, that the authority recognised that loneliness could strike “any person, at any age, and at any stage in life” but that the growing ageing population in the county meant the issue was particularly prevalent among older people.

“I don’t believe it will be possible to ever eradicate loneliness completely,” he said. “But there are things we can all do.

“Loneliness is a modern day illness, much like obesity. Society has its role to play in tackling it, but as does the local authority and voluntary groups. It is not the responsibility of voluntary groups so to speak, but they have the wherewithal to do something about it.”

More than 200 delegates at the conference heard from projects helping to make North Yorkshire more connected, and heard how technology could help.

Coun Les added: “I think it’s very important that we have an occasion where our partners and ourselves can come together, where we can share our experiences, our thoughts and build the bonds between us so that we can work together even better than we do.”

‘Double efforts to create links’

North Yorkshire should double its focus on improving the lives of those suffering poor physical or mental health by promoting strong personal and social networks, the region’s Director of Public Health has said.

Launching his annual report, Dr Lincoln Sargeant said these networks were important for “positive mental health and wellbeing throughout life, as well as enabling people to remain independent for longer as they get older.”

The report also looks back on the past five years of public health leadership.

Dr Sargeant said he hopes to inspire people to put public health “at the heart of what they do”.