Following on from the recent posts about loneliness, we thought it would be good to look at an example of how loneliness can be tackled in the community, what people in that community decided to do, how they went about it, and what impact it had on the community in terms of both physical and mental health.
We have already touched on how loneliness can affect anyone of any age, and how loneliness seems to be more widespread than in the past, due in part to the way we live our lives today. Also we looked at how loneliness is associated with poorer physical and mental health, and lower feelings of wellbeing. And the particular impact on older people has also been explored.
These issues are now widely recognised, and the importance of addressing loneliness in terms of our mental health is clear. So how did one particular town decide to tackle this, and what can be learned from their experience?
The town in question is Frome in Somerset, and interestingly, the initiative to address loneliness in the town came from within the NHS. Local GP Helen Kingston recognised that many of her patients were experiencing loneliness which was affecting their mental and physical health. So, in 2013 she set up ‘Compassionate Frome’.
It works like this……A GP sees someone who is experiencing loneliness and refers them to a Health Counsellor, who can connect them with people who can help. In addition, a group of 500 voluntary ‘Community Connectors’ were appointed – people such as cafe owners or taxi drivers, who regularly come into contact with people – to make connections, hand out leaflets and refer people to groups who can help them get involved in social activities. It is estimated that each volunteer speaks to around 20 people a year, meaning 10,000 connections are made.
The result is that individuals experiencing loneliness are ‘reached out’ to by the community, and can access befriending services or become involved in a growing range of social groups including choirs, ‘men’s sheds’, various exercise and hobby groups. As a result, general wellbeing levels in the population have risen and the mental health impacts of loneliness have reduced significantly.
So is Frome really the least lonely town in Britain? The results 5 years on from setting up ‘Compassionate Frome’ are certainly impressive in terms of both mental and physical health……local hospital admissions are down 20% over the period, and Dr Kingston estimates that every £1 spent on the ‘Compassionate Frome’ scheme has saved the NHS £6. There are surely lessons we can all learn from this and apply in our own communities and families to help beat loneliness.