The government launched a new strategy for tackling loneliness on 15 October 2018. While voluntary and community organisations may welcome the opportunity it brings to raise awareness of this important issue, a number of national charities have expressed concern and caution over what it will offer locally and on the ground. It is not clear, for example, which of the many government department work and funding streams it describes are genuinely new, and reference to how the local voluntary and community sector will be fully integrated at a local level is scant at best. You can read NAVCA’s response to the strategy here.
The proof of any strategy, of course, is in the delivery, and RVA will work to ensure that the voluntary and community sector in Reading is able to make the most of the strategy in a variety of ways. Examples include:
New funding streams
Sport England will make new grant awards totalling £1 million from its Active Ageing Fund to two programmes which specifically tackle loneliness through sport and physical activity for people over 55.
Data and intelligence
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will work in collaboration with local bodies, the Local Government Association and others to run up to four data pilots with four local authorities to identify ways of ensuring that information and data can be made more accessible. The goal is to find ways to make sharing information more efficient, accurate and sustainable to help people find relevant local activities, services and support.
Links to relevant national special interest weeks
…the department [for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] will raise awareness of the role that libraries can play, including through Libraries Week.
Freeing up community spaces
…government will create more sustainable community hubs and spaces, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will devote up to £1.8 million to helping local communities build social connections through unlocking the potential of underutilised community spaces…. The Department for Education will publish guidance to help schools open up as accessible spaces in the centre of their communities.
Improving access to transport
The Department for Transport will build partnerships with transport providers and community groups to develop how transport can be used as a means to help tackle loneliness, and use industry-wide forums to promote these.
Involvement in partnership projects
The Home Office will pilot a scheme working with Royal Mail, private enterprise, local authorities and the local voluntary sector to help identify and support older people experiencing loneliness.
Raising the profile of social prescribing activity
The Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and the Department for Work and Pensions will test methods that will improve how a range of organisations (such as community pharmacies, social workers, community nurses and job centres) refer intoexisting social prescribing services and provision in 2019/20.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will encourage more employers to recognise loneliness and support their employees’ social wellbeing through an Employers’ Pledge.
This part of the strategy certainly chimes with the findings from RVA’s Ready Friends work over the last few years, which suggests focusing on a number of key areas:
- Ensuring that local people (especially those least likely to reach out) are aware of the many activities and services already happening in their town and neighbourhood – and improving access and take-up of voluntary and community sector services and activities.
- Identifying gaps in service and supporting the community to come together and get new activities up and running.
- Ensuring that voluntary and community sector services and activities have the greatest possible impact on people’s lives and empower people to move on.
Rhiannon Stocking-Williams recently took up the role of Ready Friends Coordinator and is keen to hear from anyone interested in strengthening what Reading has to offer local people at risk of, or currently, experiencing loneliness and isolation: Rhiannon.firstname.lastname@example.org.