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We must wake up to the cost of loneliness and re-connect our communities

(Alamy)

4 min read

When the shocking story of Sheila Seleoane – whose body lay undiscovered in her flat for more than two years – hit the headlines last year, the country sat up and took notice.

People asked how it could it be possible, in this day and age, for someone to become so isolated from the community in which they live? It triggered a welcome and important discussion, one that must be continued, especially during Loneliness Awareness Week. 

This case is just the tip of the iceberg – there are many less shocking, but no less devastating, examples of people becoming detached from their communities every day across the United Kingdom. 

Take 80-year-old Veronica, who had enjoyed a dynamic working life in entertainment. But in later life, after her husband passed away, she slid into loneliness. Having moved house to be closer to family, she found it difficult to find friends in her new area. Shielding during the pandemic compounded her feelings and at times she felt there was no point going on. But meeting a British Red Cross volunteer provided a lifeline. Their shared sense of humour and love of gardening provided a connection and helped get Veronica out of the house. A small thing, you’d think, but Veronica said finding that connection made her feel “like a person again.” 

As the cost of living crisis bites, it’s more important than ever to focus on building support and resilience into communities

This Loneliness Awareness Week the theme is connection matters. Why? Because connections bring people together – they are the threads that run through our communities and help prevent loneliness and isolation. 

And now, as the cost of living crisis bites, it’s more important than ever to focus on building support and resilience into communities to foster, encourage and maintain those all-important connections.  

 In 2021 we became co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Tackling Loneliness and Connected Communities. We’ve achieved a lot in the five years since the government policy agenda on loneliness began in the UK, following the report from the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission. On a national level 60 commitments have been delivered in areas from health and transport to education and business.  

For us, what has also been achieved at a local level has been striking. At The Crescent in Kim’s constituency in Batley, a small charity where people who need a break, need a friend or just need a cup of tea can go along and find a warm welcome and some support. Or the Net Community Hub in Tracey’s constituency of Chatham and Aylesford, which runs lunches and support groups for the elderly, the bereaved, people dealing with illnesses or disabilities and those in the often-isolating role of caring for others.

These are brilliant examples of how we can tackle loneliness and make a positive impact on people who need to reconnect, in a simple and inexpensive way. Post pandemic and in the midst of rising costs of living, as communities slowly rebuild and recover, we rely on the services offered by these and other voluntary organisations. Budgets may be tight right now, but investing in connecting our communities will pay off – not only reducing demand on public services, but also growing a more resilient, healthy society. Loneliness prevention requires a holistic approach. It must be woven into services and policies – for example: creating safe, accessible public spaces, or considering transport infrastructure. Every initiative, every measure taken contributes to making our communities more loneliness-proof.  

To help do this effectively, this summer, the British Red Cross, the Campaign to End Loneliness and the APPG will convene sector partners to discuss how to build on the successes of the past five years, and where to go next. 

Any of us could find ourselves becoming lonely one day, struggling to navigate life without enough connections, feeling empty inside. But together there is plenty we can do to tackle this problem. As a country, we simply cannot afford not to.   

 

Tracey Crouch is the Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford. Kim Leadbeater, Labour MP for Batley and Spen.

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Connecting Communities

Connecting Communities is an initiative aimed at empowering and strengthening community ties across the UK. Launched in partnership with The National Lottery, it aims to promote dialogue and support Parliamentarians working to nurture a more connected society.

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