Loneliness

Loneliness is one of three regional priorities identified in our

Strategic Framework for Arts, Health and Wellbeing in the south west.

The other regional priorities are Mental Health and Social Prescribing.

The national Loneliness Strategy was published on 15th October 2018. This built on work by the Campaign to End Loneliness, founded in 2011, and the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness which published its report in late 2017. Following the recommendations of the report, the remit of the Minister for Sport and Civil Society was expanded to include responsibility for loneliness. A cross-government task group was set up to develop the national Loneliness Strategy.

The strategy foregrounds loneliness as a public health issue and states that 3 out of 4 GPs surveyed said 1-5 people a day are experiencing loneliness. Frequent and sustained loneliness is linked to heart disease, strokes and dementia. The strategy is closely linked to developments in social prescribing and states that all GPs will be able to refer people experiencing loneliness to community activities and services by 2023.

The strategy announced plans for £1.8m to increase number of community spaces such as community cafes, art spaces or gardens and £20m to help charities and community groups expand their services.

A distinction needs to be made between loneliness as a subjective feeling that a person has about the gap between their desired levels of social contact and their actual level of social contact or intimacy with the people they do know. It refers to the perceived quality of the person’s relationships. Social isolation is an objective measure of the number of contacts that people have. It is about quantity not quality and some people may choose to have fewer contacts. Social isolation may be easier to tackle than feelings of loneliness.

The Role of The Arts and Culture

The strategy states that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) will work with Arts Council England to promote the role that arts and culture can play in addressing loneliness through its programmes. The Arts Council will identify and promote examples of best practice in reducing social isolation through using existing arts and cultural assets to create easily accessible spaces. DCMS will work with Arts Council England to utilise the new national loneliness measure across relevant projects and programmes, improving our understanding of how the arts and culture build social connections and protect against loneliness. This will apply to programmes already underway and will have an impact on programmes that will be funded in the future.

It states that Arts Council England, supported by the organisations it funds, will work with public health providers to provide arts and cultural programmes as part of the planned expansion of social prescribing. Arts Council England will work with the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance to support and develop cultural practitioners wishing to engage with health and wellbeing.

Measuring Loneliness

The What Works Centre for Wellbeing did a rapid review of the existing evidence on effective interventions to inform the strategy. The Office for National Statistics worked with a panel of experts to recommend a set of questions to help measure loneliness. The What Works Centre for Wellbeing has published a Brief Guide to Measuring Loneliness for Charities and Social Enterprises.

As well as setting out the national measures for adults and children, they also recommend other measures that can help build a picture of people’s social relationships, how they feel about their communities, and other factors involved in feelings of loneliness.

The guide takes a realistic approach to evaluation to avoid overloading charities and the people they support with too many questions. It acknowledges the strengths of small organisations in collecting evidence about people’s personal journeys, and gives advice on how to have conversations about a sometimes difficult and sensitive topic.

They have created a downloadable questionnaire template to use as part of evaluation. It includes questions about:people’s overall wellbeing;their relationships and sense of loneliness;how they feel about their community;some suggestions about relevant demographic measures. Projects that are trying to alleviate loneliness are usually also aiming to improve the overall wellbeing of people. The What Works Centre for Wellbeing also provides online guide for measuring wellbeing impact.

Resources

Case Studies
Podcast

Research

Public Health England SW Search Results on arts and loneliness (pdf)

“Not So Cut Off”Case Study Evidence, Arts Council England 2016

Get involved!

How to Get Involved in the Regional Strategy

What’s in your area?

  • Which Voluntary Community Sector Organisations in your locality are working on loneliness programmes (e.g. Befriending schemes)?
  • Are arts and loneliness activities on offer at your local GP Surgery, Library, Community Centre

What are you, your local museum, arts centre or arts organisation currently offering that is or could be helping to combat loneliness or social isolation?

Share: Contribute to building a picture of regional activity by contacting Alex Coulter

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