Leeds’ £6m vision to tackle loneliness is set out

A VISION for how £6m of lottery cash will help lonely people in Leeds escape the grip of loneliness will go before council leaders this week.

Leeds Older People’s Forum (LOPF) secured £1m a year over the next six years from the Big Lottery Fund’s Ageing Better Fund to fund the Out of the Shadows: Time to Shine project.

It has worked with Leeds Council to put together a ground-breaking strategy, which will be presented to the Council’s Executive Board on Wednesday.

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Leeds currently has 246,000 older residents, with 14,500 of them aged over 85. An estimated 37,000 of those older people can be described as lonely or socially isolated.

A report to the board sets out the five key areas that the strategy will work on, including a series of loneliness training awareness sessions for those who have contact with older people, along with a new Street Links project, which will see community based ‘connectors’ helping local older people find information, opportunities to socialise and vital support.

Community and volunteer groups will also be encouraged to provide more weekend and evening activities, including a Dinner Dates scheme, where a volunteer will accompany an older person to a meal, pub, café or a night in at home. Socially isolated people from black and minority ethnic communities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities and older people with learning difficulties will also be helped, the report said.

Older people will be involved in designing, managing and evaluating all of the strategy’s activities.

At the meeting, members of the executive board will be asked to formally endorse the aims of the project. A project plan will then be drawn up by the end of December, with the project scheduled to begin next July.

Coun Adam Ogilvie, Leeds Council’s executive member for adult social care, said: “Leeds has been presented with a unique and exciting opportunity to establish and grow a whole new network of projects and activities which can strike a crucial blow in the fight against the blight of loneliness and social isolation.

“With this funding, along with the support of the incredibly dedicated organisations and volunteers who already work so hard in Leeds, we can make sure ours is a city where older people have the opportunity to enjoy active and fulfilling social lives and where their enthusiasm, knowledge and experience are given the proper chance to shine.”

Out of the Shadows: Time to Shine forms part of Leeds’s efforts to be an age-friendly city. This summer Leeds was officially included in the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities.

The lottery cash was announced in September, when a similar project in Sheffield was also awarded £6m.

More than 12,000 of the South Yorkshire city’s most socially isolated people will benefit from the funding, which was secured by South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA).

The Yorkshire Post launched the Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign in February after revealing the heartbreaking scale of social isolation in the region.

Back then, nine of the region’s health and wellbeing boards failed to give significant mention of loneliness and social isolation in their over-arching strategies, a crucial document that sets out priorities for health and social care for the coming years. Four of these, including Leeds, have now pledged action, but we want a firm commitment from all local authorities to tackle loneliness, which takes it toll on 91,300 older people in our region.

For full details, visit yorkshirepost.co.uk/loneliness