As the catalogue of evidence to the negative health and social effects of loneliness continues to build, millions of pounds have been pledged to grassroots projects across Yorkshire working with those suffering from the blight of loneliness.
While some local authorities and charities have seen their social care spending slashed, projects in Sheffield, Leeds and North Yorkshire have benefitted from £13m in spending specifically aimed at loneliness and social isolation.
According to charity Friends of the Elderly, North Yorkshire has the highest number of households in the region with somebody aged 60-plus and lonely - one in six. In August last year, North Yorkshire County Council set up the £1m Innovation Fund, to support projects across the county tackling loneliness through performing arts, community cafes, counselling services and fitness workshops.
Richard Webb, North Yorkshire’s Head of Adult Services said: “Loneliness can impact on people of all ages and with very different life circumstances – so, there is also funding for specific work with people with dementia, carers, people with learning disabilities and homeless people.”
This year £300,000 will be given to community groups, including £12,000 to Orb Community Enterprise in Knaresborough, for projects tackling loneliness and isolation among people who have suffered a recent bereavement, live alone or have minor mental health problems, including its Natural Voice singing group.
Project manager Leon Fijalkowski: “It’s about engaging with other people. No matter how low or anxious or lonely people are feeling, they are welcome here. We’re creating bonds and links between people that will go on outside of the singing group. When we get feedback, people don’t talk about having learnt to be a better singer, but talk about being able to come somewhere and meet people where they feel comfortable.”
In September, projects in Leeds and Sheffield were each given almost £6m from the Big Lottery Fund’s Ageing Better Fund to use creative and ground-breaking techniques to help the elderly in their areas escape the grip of loneliness.
Leeds Older People’s Forum (LOPF) are now well underway identifying tenders for its Time to Shine programme, which will run schemes like Dinner Dates, where volunteers will share a meal at a cafe or pub with isolated people. Other projects will be aimed at digital inclusion, the LGBT community, minority groups and people with learning difficulties. The Forum must now submit the fine detail on how it will spend the money, and subject to approval, could start funding projects from July.
Chairman Bill Rollinson said: “At a time when there is a ridiculous level of cuts, and local authorities are suffering, to have this money to tackle some very serious problems in exciting.”
The Age Better in Sheffield programme, which also received £6m, is ran by South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA).
Head of personalisation at SYHA, Ruby Smith said the project was the opportunity to “fundamentally change the experience of ageing”, not just for those who are lonely and isolated, but for those at risk of suffering in the future.
One of its key projects will be training a thousand ‘frontline workers’ including shop assistants, pharmacists and even bus drivers to spot the signs of loneliness.
Miss Smith said: “A lot of people told us that they never see anybody, but when we looked further they’d speak to many people like bus drivers or shop assistants, but they felt like these contacts were meaningless. That’s something that has to change.”