Earlier this year, a colleague and I visited the Campaign to End Loneliness, as part of our scoping for the new campaigns team. We are not easily impressed, or at least don’t like to give that impression, but were really taken with a few aspects of the Campaign’s work.

1)      How so few staff could create such a big profile.

2)      How the organisation had struck a nerve with a very simple to grasp concept (that one should not have to be lonely.)

3)      And how quickly the organisation had grown, and grown the issues into the national conscience.

We learnt a lot, and it was refreshing to see just how invigorating and tenacious their work was.

At Big Lottery Fund we commission various pieces of research to help inform what we fund and support the projects to be the best they can. One of our periodic research programmes is our Foresight reports, with four reports produced per year, and these look at growing or emerging social trends to help us better understand how we can adjust and support. This quarter’s report analyses the trends around ageing and its key issues, including a chapter focused on loneliness.

What we found will be no surprise to the Campaign to End Loneliness, or readers of this blog, but it does help reinforce just how profound the impact of loneliness can be.

  • Loneliness is far more prevalent among older women than men…
  • …While those who experience social isolation are five times more likely to die prematurely.
  • The impact and extent of loneliness increases if the individual has a longstanding illness that causes them some limitations.
  • And the risk of Alzheimer’s disease more than doubles in older people experiencing loneliness.

One recommendation from the report is that Big Lottery Fund should integrate technology into projects that support older people, as internet and mobile communication devices can help to alleviate loneliness. The report also endorsed how volunteering can be a powerful way for older people to build strong social ties and alleviate loneliness, and that Big Lottery Fund  should do more to encourage and facilitate older men to volunteer in their communities.

One of our funded projects is Action on Hearing Loss in Northumberland where Andy Griffin, a retired deputy head of a special needs school, became a volunteer following his own experience of hearing difficulties.

 “It’s very rewarding to make a contribution. No matter what your level of skill, there’ll always be a task you can do that will help someone. I feel better in myself than staying at home. As well as helping others, you help yourself, and feel better for it.”

 For every physical and mental health project we fund, every befriending or community action initiative, one of the catalytic effects that leads to their success is to diminish loneliness. Many projects address loneliness, even if they don’t carry that label, because loneliness is at the root of many other social problems. So if you asked me to tell you how much of our funding has gone to addressing loneliness, even as a secondary or indirect benefit, then I’d say that a great deal of it has .

What strikes me, from speaking to the Campaign to End Loneliness and through reports such as this, is just how individual the impact of loneliness is, and just how communal the remedies are. Unless you experience loneliness, it is not something you are likely to spend much time thinking about. But when it affects you, it can become all-consuming, even tangible. And how you alleviate this ‘disease’ is something you can start as an individual (by taking steps to build social connections) but requires the support of others. It requires a truly communal, communitarian response. And wider social, even geographic, approaches promoting solidarity and community-led responses are one of the themes that drives our new strategic framework, People in the Lead.

We hope this report is useful to you too and, as always, if you have a project that can address the causes of loneliness but may need funding to get going, then we’d love to have a chat with you.

Pete Scott

Campaigns Manager at Big Lottery Fund