WHEN THE Yorkshire Post launched its award-winning loneliness campaign five years ago, the presumption was that it was the elderly who were most at risk of social isolation, and its effects, in this region.
“The statistic is a stark one. The 91,300 senior citizens who admit to feeling lonely equates to the number of people who live in the town centres of Harrogate and Knaresborough,” said this newspaper’s editorial.
Yet, as the campaign has evolved, it soon became apparent that loneliness was a condition that afflicts people of all ages, and from all backgrounds, and that social media interaction was no substitute for the void in the lives of those who, for whatever reason, feel cut-off from their family and community.
As this newspaper highlighted at the time, loneliness can be as damaging to an individual’s health as the effects of smoking 15 cigarettes a day – and this remains so. But what could not be envisaged, however, was how the Post’s coverage struck a chord with the rest of the country, culminating in today’s heartfelt endorsement by the Duchess of Cornwall and an incredibly moving account by Dame Esther Rantzen about the relationships forged between The Silver Line charity – one of many good causes she has championed – and the lonely.
For, just has the country has adopted a more mature outlook to issues like mental health, which were still taboo just a short time ago, the same is also true about Britain’s approach to loneliness. And, thanks to the pioneering work of charities, like the Campaign to End Loneliness and The Jo Cox Foundation set up in memory of the indefatigable Batley & Spen MP who was among the very first to highlight the issue and its importance, significant progress has been made on a cross-party basis. We’re grateful to all those who made this possible.
Not only did Prime Minister Theresa May give her support – one of the happiest images of her entire premiership is her laughter as she served tea to a group of elderly people with the late Mrs Cox’s sister Kim Leadbeater – but she appointed the country’s first ever Loneliness Minister in Tracey Crouch. More recently, this responsibility has passed to Mims Davies. Nevertheless, there is no doubting the sincerity of Mrs May’s commitment after the scale of this previously ‘hidden epidemic’ emerged into the open.
The challenge now is harnessing this support, from Royal endorsements to political goodwill and volunteers going the extra mile in their community to reach out to the lonely, to ensure help – even a friendly voice at the end of a telephone – reaches the most vulnerable and those at risk of becoming forgotten in an increasingly fragmented society. They need to know they’re not alone.
And, far from this being the beginning of the end for this campaign, today’s landmark is, very much, just the end of the beginning. There’s much still to do, not least raising awareness about the obligations of health professionals and encouraging more volunteers to devote time to local projects. “Where Yorkshire leads, I hope the rest of the country will follow,” says the Duchess of Cornwall. And, rest assured, The Yorkshire Post intends to help make this happen.