In the light of the Coronavirus emergency it feels like an understanding of the importance of connection and the need to tackle loneliness has never been higher. But in a world of lockdown, social distancing and shielding, there are no easy answers for what can be done.

However, this problem isn’t new for organisations that work with people experiencing loneliness and social isolation. And there is a lot we can learn from the work they’ve been doing over many years.

Over the next few months we’re going to bring together the community of people and organisations who take action on loneliness to think about how they’re applying their understanding in this new context.

And we’ll also think about the challenges that lie ahead. With many people likely to be in some form of isolation until there is a vaccine, this crisis is going to develop over time. What it is like to be in lockdown for the first few weeks will be different to how people will experience it months down the line.

We will share the knowledge and learning of our expert colleagues with the much wider community of organisations who are newly involved in tackling loneliness. Here are some of the insights we’ve gathered along the years:

What loneliness is

Loneliness is the feeling when there is a gap between the social connections we want and those we need.

Sometimes we feel a gap in the quality of our relationships, perhaps with those closest to us. At other times we don’t have the quantity of relationships we need to sustain us across our wider circle of friendships.

Right now, people are experiencing both kinds of loneliness as we’re cut off from friends and close relationships are strained. However, we are most concerned when loneliness becomes chronic: when people feel always or often lonely.

Who may need help

Loneliness has a lot of different causes – and it’s not just about isolation – some people live quite happily with very limited social contact. But we know that there are certain groups who are likely to be at greater risk. These include:

  • People who live alone
  • Older carers and those receiving care
  • Those with sight and hearing loss
  • People living in poverty.

Helping people

There is no single solution to loneliness. People need to be listened to about their situation and be supported to think through what they need.

In our report, Promising Approaches we described three main types of activities to reduce loneliness:

  • Some seek to improve the quality of people’s relationships – helping them connect more often and more meaningfully
  • Some increase the quantity of their relationships – helping people to make new friends
  • Finally, we can help people to think differently about their relationships, so they feel less of a gap between what they have and what they want.

But the right solution differs from person to person – and can include one-to-one services like befriending, or group-based activities like clubs – many of which are, of course, not able to continue in their usual way at the moment.

What works

The kind of activities that help us overcome loneliness tend to have certain things in common.

They create connections that are meaningful – true relationships where we value one another – not just a sense of being “checked in on”.

They involve people, rather than supporting them.

And finally, they are focussed on things we care about and find interesting. These services are rarely talked about in terms of loneliness. The word still carries a stigma for many people, and no one would go to a “loneliness club”.

What that means right now

The coronavirus emergency has meant more people are at risk of loneliness, and it is harder to do things that help. But organisations are already thinking creatively about what can be done. Some ideas for getting around this are:

  • Supporting people to use the internet. There are lots of new opportunities to connect online, but experts working on digital inclusion say ongoing support with the tech is the most important thing. People also need choice to get the technology that works for them
  • Using the phone. While not everyone has internet access most people have a phone so making support available on the phone is vital
  • Offering opportunities to get involved. While it’s harder for people who are shielding or self-isolating to volunteer, think about whether there are ways they can get involved, such as by offering telephone support or helping with organising others.

This is a very basic introduction to some of the things we’ve learnt about reducing loneliness. Over the coming months we’ll be sharing more insights from our community, bringing to light the most successful ways they’re finding to provide support in this emergency. We hope you’ll share your learning with us as this work progresses.

Join our webinar

As a first step, we are holding a webinar for loneliness organisations to share their early experiences and lessons from the lockdown.

If you would like to join the discussion at 10:30 on Tuesday 13 May please register for the event.

Please note the event on the 12 May has now sold out. If you are already registered you do not have to register for the event on the 13th.

Even if you can’t join the webinar, we’d love to hear what you are learning, and how you are adapting your support.

  • How are you staying in touch with the people you support?
  • Are there any groups you feel are particularly vulnerable?
  • What are the key challenges you’re finding?

Leave a comment below, or email using the subject line: Covid19 – organisation response