Feelings of loneliness are not new – many of us experience them at some point in our lives – and a lot of work was being done to raise awareness and support people before coronavirus struck.
The Yorkshire Post’s readers will be familiar with this paper’s long-standing campaign, which has helped lead the way in tackling the stigma of loneliness.
Yet of late, we have all had no choice but to look loneliness in the eye. That may be because we have experienced it ourselves, or worried about friends and family who are living alone.
That is why we are encouraging everyone to write letters and cards to check in on friends and family as part of Loneliness Awareness Week.
Taking the time to write to one another – instead of firing off a quick email or text message – might be a slightly forgotten art, but it’s more important than ever to connect with people, and putting pen to paper is an excellent way of making sure our friends, family and neighbours know we’re there for them.
Research from the Royal Mail shows that nearly three quarters of people (74 per cent) feel that writing letters has positive mental health benefits. I will be writing to a friend who is in her 80s and is living alone, far from her children and grandchildren.
This week, thanks to our partnership with the Royal Mail and Post Office, a “Let’s Talk Loneliness” postmark will be stamped on letters to raise awareness.
Of course, writing to each other is not the only way to reach out to friends and family. Technology has allowed us to connect with loved ones across the world, faster than ever before.
The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie) is tackling loneliness by encouraging people of all ages to play games and quizzes together online for their Play And Talk weekend on June 20-21.
The Jo Cox Foundation’s Connection Coalition, a group of over 400 organisations ranging from small community groups to national bodies, has the More In Common Hour on Twitter where every Tuesday people can share their positive stories, remember happier times and look forward to things on the horizon.
Next weekend, around Jo Cox’s birthday, the foundation is running The Great Get Together, designed to connect communities through something as simple as having a cup of tea over the hedge, or chatting online or over the phone.
I recently had the pleasure of talking to Kaneez Khan, from Near Neighbours in West Yorkshire, who shared with me the particular fears and pressures on people from BAME communities in her neighbourhood.
During the coronavirus outbreak they have continued their fantastic work, promoting online activities to support people self-isolating, helping local food-shares and clothes banks, and providing reassurance and friendship to groups across the region.
In Government, we recognise and are grateful for the heroic efforts of these individuals and organisations.
I am delighted to announce that nine organisations will receive a share of £5m as part of a major effort to tackle loneliness, which was pledged as part of the Chancellor’s £750m support package for charities.
The successful groups – which include the Armed Forces charity SSAFA and The English Football League Trust – are providing vital support for a range of vulnerable groups at risk of loneliness at this time, including the elderly, veterans, and people with disabilities.
Loneliness doesn’t discriminate, and I know from personal experience that understanding that many other people feel the way you do can be helpful in and of itself.
We all have a role in looking out for each other during this time – and so many people have been kind in a million small ways.
Whether that’s writing a letter, picking up the phone, joining an online community or delivering shopping for neighbours.
While the past few months have been hard for everyone, they’ve also shown the many ways in which a little distance can sometimes bring us closer together.
Baroness Diana Barran is the Minister for Loneliness.
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