[Guest blog] Community Spirit Tackles Loneliness

After a weekend news-cycle that focused on images of anger and division in counter-demonstrations in London, it was good to go back to work on Monday to return to the stories of love and compassion that have emerged across the UK during COVID-19.

Carnegie UK Trust, which works across the UK and Ireland to promote wellbeing, has been speaking to communities about their struggles and supports during Covid19.

We have heard about the challenges of accessing food and medicine if you are shielding (that largely have been overcome), and the increasing fears about mental ill health. This concern is reflected in research, such as a longitudinal study in the pandemic that shows feelings of loneliness in April had more than doubled from the previous month, particularly amongst young people.[1] The pandemic and continuing lockdown have negative impacts on people’s income, access to employment, education and social opportunities: all of which could lead to an increase in loneliness and mental health issues. 

But the public and third sectors, community organisations, businesses, communities and streets are aware of the challenges and coming together to protect their local areas. In our conversations, we have picked up human understanding of the prevalence and impact of loneliness in local communities.  There are many stories of people and communities going out of their way to care for their neighbours and talking to and helping people they previously didn’t know.

For example, the practical need of food provision has lead businesses and new groups to make, packing, take deliveries to people’s doors, which offers a chance to check how people are doing, and a valuable opportunity for human connection for those living on their own. In one Northern Irish town, the Super Whippy (Ice Cream Van) has converted to delivering meals cooked by local volunteers. On one delivery, no-one came to the door so the volunteer checked inside, to find the lady had fallen and broken her hip.  The door step visit meant she went to hospital, and had a successful operation.

In villages and towns across the county, streets are putting on entertainment – dancing, music and neighbourhood bingo. In a part of Paisley the Isolation Bingo Bus in Ferguslie Park brings bingo to the streets, and in the narrow streets of Treorchy in Wales, the local caller stands at the head of the street with a megaphone.

Governments too have grasped factors increasing the likelihood of loneliness in the emergency. For example, as many of us move online for work and play, there are people who lack access to digital services for different reasons. Governments have responded to this, for example the Connecting Scotland initiative, commitments from the UK’s Department for Education and the Department for Culture and Media and Sport, which is distributing donated and refurbished devices with Devicesdotnow. Despite this there are deep seated inequalities in digital skills, availability and affordability, so in some cases, for example, where support groups have gone online, workers have realised the importance of phone calls to keep in touch.

Community spirit and volunteering has flourished in the emergency when there has been a common sense of purpose and togetherness. The Covid19 pandemic has showed that people and communities care about each other and, given the opportunity, will create imaginative ways to connect and tackle loneliness We have noticed that many of the barriers to kinder communities have fallen away: communities have worked more closely with public authorities and been empowered to help each other.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, we need to consider how we can sustain this enabling environment: to celebrate what has been achieved, and foster continuing community action. By focusing on ground-up policy-making and giving people the tools to participate actively in local communities, we can build a more connected society, tackle loneliness and improve wellbeing.

 


[1] Four in ten (43 per cent) of young people (18-24 years) aged have felt loneliness (23 April, 2020).

 

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