Services to address loneliness
There are plenty of local services that provide social occasions for older people. These include:
- Day centres
- Lunch clubs
- Social clubs
For example, the charity Re-engage (formerly Contact the Elderly) holds regular free Sunday afternoon tea parties for people over 75 who live alone. They will collect you from your home and drive you to a volunteer host’s home for the afternoon - although these are currently suspended due to Covid-19. Once they resume you can apply online or call 0800 716 543.
Your local Age UK will also run a variety of these kinds of services:
- Arts and crafts groups
- Self-help and support groups
- Cookery classes
- ‘Men in Sheds’ groups
Men in Sheds was a project piloted by Age UK in 2010 which supported older men who wanted to get together and share and learn new skills – all in the welcoming space of a ‘Shed’. Many local Age UKs now provide similar services; check your local area here.
- Health/exercise groups including walking clubs and even walking football and walking netball.
Walking football is a standard game of football where the players walk instead of run. It’s designed to help men and women get fit or maintain an active lifestyle, no matter what their age and fitness. Walking netball is based on the same principles.
- The University of the Third Age
U3A (University of the Third Age) is a UK movement of retired and semi-retired people who come together to continue their educational, social and creative interests in a friendly and informal environment. It’s all voluntary; a typical U3A will be home to many activity groups covering hundreds of different subjects – from art to zoology and everything in between. Formed over 30 years ago, there are now over 1,000 U3As across the UK, with thousands of interest groups between them and more than 400,000 members nationally.
- The Posh Club
The Posh Club is a weekly glamorous performance and social club for older people held in Hackney, Elephant & Castle, Crawley, Brighton and Hastings. Each three-hour event is styled as a tongue-in-cheek ‘posh’ 1940s afternoon tea with three live showbusiness acts, volunteer waiters in black tie, vintage crockery and an in-house pianist. It is a glamorous event for about 100 participants a week, held in elegantly transformed church halls and other grassroots spaces and emphasises dressing up, regular access to live performance, social connectivity and intergenerational volunteering. Find out more here.
- Bereavement groups
Co-op’s Funeralcare business has almost 50 bereavement groups across the UK. The groups provide support and a place to meet with other people for those who are experiencing loneliness as a result of bereavement. The groups which are open to anyone who has lost a loved one, regardless of whether their funeral was conducted by Co-op.
- British Red Cross Connecting Communities service
Expert staff and volunteers from your local Connecting Communities team will explore an individual’s interests and tailor a support plan to their needs that connects them with local services. The programme will last for around three months.
- Befriending schemes
Befriending schemes are where a volunteer visits or talks to an older person once a week in their own home, and are ideal for those who find it more difficult to leave the house. Most local Age UKs run these; find your local service here or simply Google “Befriending services near me”.
- Telephone befriending
Age UK’s Call in Time scheme matches older people with volunteers who share similar interests, to have a 30-minute phone call once a week. Find out more here or call the team on 0800 434 6105.
The Silver Line is a confidential helpline providing information, friendship and advice to older people, open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Any older person can call the service at any time if they feel lonely or just want a chat. The number is 0800 4 70 80 90.
If callers want to receive a regular weekly friendship call or email, they can be put in touch with Silver Line Friends. Or they may like to join a Silver Circle and take part in a regular group call on subjects that interest them.
Silver Line also accepts referrals about people who might benefit from additional support – you must get the person’s permission to refer them, but once you’ve done so, Silver Line will contact them and determine what local services might help them.
As well as a telephone service, Silver Line offers Silver Letters, where volunteers provide friendship to older people through a regular exchange of written letters. If you know an older person who might be interested in receiving regular correspondence through the programme or would like more information, call 020 7224 2731.
Re-engage also offers a call companion service: apply to join here.
- Meetup groups
Meetup is an online platform that lets you search for groups and activities in your area. Just type in your postcode to see what is going on near you.
- Volunteering opportunities
Studies show that people who are engaged in service to others, such as volunteering, tend to be happier. Not only does volunteering provide positive feelings of goodwill, it can also help people to enlarge their own social networks, preventing loneliness from becoming chronic. Most of the large organisations working to tackle loneliness offer volunteering opportunities including the Royal Voluntary Service, Age UK and Carers UK. The NCVO has lots of advice on volunteering, and Do-it is a search engine which will show different volunteering options in your area.
Organise or get involved in community events in your area
Organise a Great Get Together event, or a Big Lunch.
The Big Lunch was launched by the Eden Project in 2009 to encourage people to sit down to lunch with their neighbours. In 2017 around eight million people were estimated to have taken part in street parties and other events all over the nation.
The Great Get Together is a nationwide community event that was launched in 2017 in memory of the late loneliness campaigner Jo Cox MP. The project encourages people to organise local events such as street parties, sporting events, picnics, BBQs or coffee mornings. The website has lots of information on how to organise an event as well as downloadable resources.
Apply for a free TV, radio or tablet
Wavelength, the charity that aims to tackle loneliness through technology, offers free TVs, radios, tablets and CD players to people who are lonely and have limited ability to leave their house, and can’t afford to buy one themselves.
To qualify for Wavelength’s help, beneficiaries must be referred by a third party – this might be a professional such as a housing officer or care worker, but also a friend or neighbour. Relatives cannot refer.
Recipients of TVs will usually have to buy the TV licence themselves, however.
Access the application form here.
Once the older person is made aware that these services exist, they may still be reluctant to get involved. This could be down to any number of reasons – lack of transport to get there or money to pay for transport; low self-esteem and self-confidence, or simply not wanting to put anyone out.
In this case, you might try to find out what is behind their reluctance, and see if there is anything you can do to help them overcome it – such as helping them to get to the activity, by going with them, or organising transport.
Introduce your lonely neighbours to other neighbours with similar interests – such as playing Scrabble or bridge, dog walking, choir singing, or local history groups.
You might also help them to increase their IT skills so that they could use Skype to stay in contact with relatives and friends.
You could set up a neighbourhood Facebook page or website and show them how to use it.
You could help them to check that they are getting all the benefits they are entitled to, such as Attendance Allowance.
You may need to do some outreach work to identify the lonely older people in the streets where you live, in order to reach the ‘socially excluded’. These people do not, by definition, have access to the institutions and structure used by the ‘socially included’.
Such work could make use of telephone surveys and knocking on doors. One successful programme that employed such methods was the ‘Great Wirral Door Knock’, a local push to identify the ‘hidden lonely’ within the Metropolitan Borough of the Wirral.
The project used Age UK’s loneliness heat maps to identify communities most in need of support. Once the heat maps had pinpointed those neighbourhoods that were likely to have the highest levels of loneliness, these were then targeted by an army of volunteers, local councillors and staff led by Age UK Wirral working in partnership with Wirral CAB, Wirral Council, Merseyside Fire & Rescue, Merseyside Police and Merseytravel.
The team spent three days knocking on every door in the community handing out leaflets, and signposting people to local sources of support and activities. The first Door Knock took place in the Mill Park estate – with 1,100 homes visited – and resulted in 78 referrals to support, seven new attendees at local lunch clubs and six new volunteers for local community organisations.
Partners offered support ranging from benefits advice and fire safety checks, to signposting to support groups and social activities; helping everyone from older widows to desperate new mums. Further Door Knocks have taken place since, guided by the Age UK heat maps – with the aim to complete four a year. Each time, the partnership of organisations offering support and volunteers grow.
Look after yourself
It’s also important to recognise that loneliness could at some point affect us too, so we should value our friends and do what we can to sustain our own social networks, however busy and crowded our lives may appear to be.
We should check our relationship balances at least as often as we check our bank balances, and think about whether we’ve got the connections we need to keep us going. Is there any more we can do to make sure we maintain the relationships that sustain us, or to build new relationships when others fall away?
If you are keen to help tackle loneliness in your neighbourhood, we’ve compiled a range of free campaign materials that you can use to reach people and let them know about the services available to them. Click here to access the toolkit.