Neighbourhood approach is key to alleviating loneliness epidemic

The Bradford Moor group who took part in the programme. Photograph: Joseph Rowntree Foundation
The Bradford Moor group who took part in the programme. Photograph: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

A highly effective way to alleviate Britain’s loneliness epidemic is to involve people at grassroots level, a detailed study by Qa Research has found.

A team from the independent social and market research agency evaluated the Neighbourhood Approaches To Loneliness programme by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

They found that the programme, piloted in two areas of York and two in Bradford, was life-changing for those most closely involved.

Many gained confidence, self-worth and new skills. Some made tangible gains, such as returning to college or employment.

Researchers concluded that community activism of this kind can boost the well-being of people at risk of or experiencing loneliness.

The three-year Neighbourhood Approaches To Loneliness programme was based on a bottom-up, rather than top-down, solution.

It explored ways of reducing loneliness – which a 2014 US study concluded was twice as unhealthy as obesity for those aged over 50 – within the local community.

People from each neighbourhood were engaged as community researchers on the project.

They helped identify others who might be socially isolated and set up social activities to involve them.

This participatory approach was the most striking success of the project, concluded Qa researchers Angela Collins and Julie Wrigley.

“The highlight of the programme for both community researchers and professional stakeholders was the participatory community development approach which placed local people at the heart of everything,” they concluded.

“It allowed them to fail or succeed, to learn as they go, and to eventually create a small team of dedicated residents aiming to create change for themselves and their neighbours.”

The findings have implications for policy makers, they state in the report.

“For many residents, volunteering in the programme has been a ‘leg-up’ to opportunities in education, employment or training.

“This calls into question a policy which penalises (or is perceived
to penalise) those who are not actively seeking work while they are volunteering.

“We found that volunteering increases the likelihood of entering education or employment but that perceived consequences could deter potential volunteers.”

Richard Bryan, Managing Director of York-based Qa Research, said: “Much of our work is dedicated to giving a voice to people who rarely get a chance to be heard, like those who took part in this ground-breaking programme.

“We hope policy makers take time to read this report. It has important implications as to how we alleviate loneliness, now recognised as one of society’s most pressing social problems.”

The research

The Neighbourhood Approaches To Loneliness (NAL) programme by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation ran for three years from 2010.

It took place in four areas:

  • Bradford Moor, an inner city area with diverse tenure and ethnicity
  • Carr, a suburb of York with little community focus, where most residents are home owners
  • Denholme, a rural area in Bradford, with a mix of tenure, and
  • New Earswick, a village outside York with majority social renting.
  • The evaluation was undertaken by Qa Research, working alongside the programme from September 2011.

They asked community researchers and stakeholders from partner organisations to identify the programme’s strengths and weaknesses and suggest any improvements.

 


Further reading

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The JRF has produced a Loneliness Resource Pack