Fears for city’s isolated after end of £6m loneliness project

Picture: PA
Picture: PA
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FEARS HAVE been raised that vulnerable isolated people could be left without support once funding for a £6m loneliness project runs out.

The Big Lottery Fund awarded the Age Better in Sheffield project £6m to reduce loneliness and social isolation in people aged 50 plus in 2014.

The project, led by South Yorkshire Housing Association, has specifically worked in Beauchief and Greenhill, Burngreave, Firth Park and Woodhouse and there is three years of funding left.

But there are concerns people could be left even more isolated if they have started attending groups which then fold once funding ends.

Coun Pat Midgley, who is chairman of the healthier communities scrutiny committee, told a meeting: “What if the funding is not there? We have lit the torch for these groups but it will be a big shock when funding is not there. It could make things even worse for people who have become used to these groups.

“I’m concerned about things stopping and starting and that people can’t keep the collective going once funding is not there.”

Liz Stirling of South Yorkshire Housing Association said they understood the concerns and were working on making the projects long lasting.

“We think about the legacy of the projects a lot because we don’t want there to be a cliff edge where everything stops and there is a gap,” she said. “We helping people in communities to start up their own groups and we have helped a diverse number of groups from Northern Soul to Pagans and allotment holders.

“People in communities can start up their own groups and they will outlive the lifespan of this programme. We give them a bit of money to buy equipment or whatever they need to set up but then that group continues in the community for as long as there’s a need.

“It’s about people getting the support when they need it but also giving them their own tools to manage their loneliness and help them feel more capable. Some of this is getting people to be more community minded and talking to their neighbours.

“With bigger projects we are thinking about how to sustain them and what happens next. We don’t have all the answers but we are looking at it.”

The Yorkshire Post first reported on the project in 2014 just a few months after it launched its award-winning campaign, Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic.

Then, the project estimated that more than 16,000 of the city’s 177,000 over-50s experience social isolation and loneliness.

The six-year project aimed to work with a range of partners, such as the Royal Voluntary Service, to launch innovative schemes to combat loneliness, including one where young people were drafted in for an “inter-generational skill swap”.

A similar project also received £6m in Leeds, ran by the city’s older people forum. Out of the Shadows: Time to Shine forms part of Leeds’s efforts to be an age-friendly city.

Leeds has 246,000 older residents, an estimated 37,000 of those older people can be described as lonely or socially isolated.

The Yorkshire Post campaign, which was described by Prime Minister Theresa May as “vital”, was sparked by research showing over 90,000 older people across Yorkshire were lonely all or most of the time.