On 21st May, we supported the British Red Cross and Co-op, on behalf of the Loneliness Action Group, to deliver three workshops at their conference: From Policy to Action: Where Next for Loneliness?
This collaborative event brought together delegates from across the voluntary, community and private sectors, and local and national government, to celebrate the achievements of the past year and set out a path for future action to tackle loneliness.
The workshops we (along with our partners*) facilitated were:
Tackling Loneliness with Social Prescribing
Embedding Tackling Loneliness Into All Policy Making
Teaching Loneliness in Schools
This blog summarises two important things we learnt from each workshop.
Tackling Loneliness with Social Prescribing In this session we introduced the recommendations from the ‘Fulfilling the Promise’ report, which we supported the British Red Cross and Co-op in creating and launched on 21st May. The report outlines our key recommendations, aimed at national policymakers, Primary Care Networks, CCGs, GP practices and Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) organisations, to ensure social prescribing effectively tackles loneliness. The key focus of the session was on how the recommendations could be converted into action. Here is what we learnt:
1. Most people know there’s potential for social prescribing to tackle loneliness, but fewer think it’s already happening. At the beginning of the session we did a ‘temperature test’ of whether participants think, in their context, social prescribing is already being used to tackle loneliness, and what potential there is for this to happen. Participants certainly felt there is more that could be done. When we dissected why they felt this way, it seems that there is a disconnect between the national conversation on loneliness and social prescribing happening at a local level.
One participant said: “We are aware of this nationally, but it’s not locally visible. The potential is huge. It needs collaboration - good communication relies on different organisations working together.”
How could local areas reach that potential? Some ideas included sharing stories to help show how social prescribing can tackle loneliness; bringing local groups already providing services, or with potential to, into the conversation; ensuring there is proper funding and marketing; and connecting with new NHS England link workers.
One person said: “In my area, there are lots of organisations talking about social prescribing and some, including myself, already doing it. My impression is that the NHS is not involved in most of this and I don’t know how involved individual NHS England link workers are wanting to be, but if they were to join the conversation there would be a lot for them to tap into.”
2. VCSE organisations need support to integrate with Primary Care Networks. One of the recommendations in the report is for local VCSE organisations to get involved with social prescribing conversations from the start, engaging with Primary Care Networks as an equal partner. However, participants told us that VCSE organisations - particularly those with limited capacity - might need a hand when it comes to navigating the local health and care system, and creating those links:
“We can help equip VCSE organisations to ‘be noisy’ about what they are doing. What about a ‘how-to’ guide for them around reaching out to Primary Care Networks?”
Embedding Tackling Loneliness Into All Policy Making In this session, participants explored what should be included in a Government-wide ‘loneliness test’. The loneliness test (a type of ‘policy test’) is a series of questions which policymakers will apply to scrutinise new policies and ensure they don’t adversely affect people at risk of loneliness or social isolation. As part of the cross-government Loneliness Strategy, the loneliness test questions may be embedded within the ‘family test’, which already exists. Five proposed questions are outlined below.
1. Key ‘loneliness test’ questions proposed by participants.
What new barriers to human connection are there as a result of this policy?
Does this policy consider the impact of loneliness on mental health?
Will an asylum seeker, or other marginalised group, be isolated by this policy?
How is this policy promoting good quality relationships?
Does the implementation of this policy affect the stigma around loneliness?
2. There are lots of ways an organisation can influence policy and/or hold the government to account. Angela Kitching, Head of External Affairs at Age UK, gave participants a brief introduction to her experience with Age UK in influencing policy. With that context, participants considered various actions they could take right now to influence Government departments and ensure the loneliness test is embedded into all policy making. Some of the actions suggested by participants were:
“Act as a voice for our funded partners to demonstrate to Government the benefits of having access to community spaces for young people’s loneliness.”
“Challenge the cuts in bus services that result in older people becoming more isolated.”
“Show support for the Sandwell Well-being Charter Mark, a whole-school approach to social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) in Sandwell schools.”
Teaching About Loneliness In Schools This session helped us understand what resources would be needed, and the points which should be covered, to help teachers integrate loneliness into the curriculum as recommended by the Department for Education’s guidance on Relationships, Sex and Health Education.
1. Teaching about loneliness helps tackle stigma. Participants explored the different aspects of loneliness – from the causes, to the impact, to how it’s tackled – and what the key points to get across should be when teaching children about it. A key point which participants felt important for teachers to get across is that loneliness is a ‘normal’ emotion that can affect anyone. Normalising it helps to tackle the stigma around it. Equally, without the appropriate emotional language and awareness around it, children cannot seek help if they feel lonely or isolated. Having this awareness will encourage children to tackle it.
2. Teachers need advice, too. During the session, participants shared their advice for teachers educating children about loneliness. Here are some of our favourites:
“Find out what’s going on in your local area and look for external support, especially the youth sector.”
“Learn about the causes and signs of loneliness, and think creatively about how to embed it into the work you’re already doing.”
“Change the language from negative to positive. Loneliness is not something to fear, along with all your other emotions. Understanding and empowering equals dealing with loneliness by default.”
“Champion young people and their futures – don’t talk about ‘youth loneliness’ – build confidence and self-belief to empower children to be kind to themselves and use loneliness as a motivator rather than a limiter.”
“Recognise indicators of unhealthy relationships and offer support.”
“Ensure children in specialist settings are not overlooked for PHSE, sex and relationships education.”
*Thanks to our partners who helped us deliver the workshops: Age UK, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, UK Youth, Co-op Foundation, British Red Cross and Co-op, and Kate Jopling.