How lives have changed through a neighbourhood approach to loneliness

A grassroots approach can make a massive difference to local people experiencing, or at risk of, loneliness, says Julie Wrigley of Qa Research.

My colleagues and I have spent a lot of time over the past two years talking and thinking about loneliness. We found that a grassroots approach really can make a massive difference.

JRF and JRHT’s three-year action research programme, Neighbourhood approaches to loneliness, explored ways of reducing loneliness. It aimed to get people to talk about loneliness, what caused this, and what solutions they might identify and implement. The programme took a participatory approach, engaging community researchers in four varying neighbourhoods in York and Bradford.

While researching our independent evaluation of the programme, it was clear that loneliness touches people of all ages and backgrounds and so many were inspired to join in with the programme – whether by giving their thoughts and comments to researchers, or by becoming community researchers themselves. The programme was able to attract many people who may not usually feel confident to volunteer.

The community researchers have relished the opportunity to make a difference in their communities. They have felt proud and inspired. What’s more, several have made tangible achievements, by starting new training, going to university or getting a new job. Confidence levels, enthusiasm and self-reliance have soared through the roof. Many of the residents are now running preventative ‘loneliness solutions’ in their own communities – playgroups, pop-up cafes, walking groups and cultural markets.

Even the professionals who were involved report that they now have more insight into the effects of loneliness. They say they have changed behaviour in their personal lives to match.

The programme set out to discover whether a neighbourhood approach to loneliness could bring about meaningful change. It adapted to run differently in each of the four areas and there have been benefits for individuals and the wider community in each.

With 7,667 individual comments from almost 2,000 local people there is no shortage of powerful, often highly personal, messages emerging through the programme.

“Busy people can be lonely too.”

This quote came from a young man in an independent supported living scheme. His paid carer suggested that he was not lonely as he went out most days to activities. He said: “But busy people can be lonely too.”

As the programme manager, Tracey Robbins, said: “This hit home hard, not just for those being supported by paid carers but for us all ‘too busy’ to seek out the relationships we want or to look after those we have.”

“Home can be a lonely place.”

Another sad and startling quote that came out from the research.

“I am sure we all know someone, regardless of age, experiencing loneliness or at risk of becoming lonely,” says Tracey. “I am also sure we all can do something to reduce loneliness – our own or another’s.”