THE coronavirus crisis is exposing how a lack of meaningful connections can increase feelings of loneliness – and many people fear they will become lonelier in the future.
Published to mark Loneliness Awareness Week, a new British Red Cross report – Life after lockdown: Tackling loneliness among the left behind – shows that more than a quarter of adults (28 per cent) worry no one would notice if something happened to them and a third fear their loneliness will get worse.
Overall, 41 per cent of adults report feeling lonelier since lockdown, with 33 per cent saying they haven’t had a meaningful conversation in the last week, and 37 per cent saying their neighbours are like strangers to them.
The British Red Cross is calling for secure and sustained funding to be provided to tackle loneliness and for organisations to work collaboratively, and with those they support, to find ways of addressing its root causes.
That includes building on the NHS social prescriber scheme that puts people in touch with groups, activities and organisations that help them become more active, connected and healthy.
Life after lockdown found that 31 per cent of adults feel they have no one to turn to and, for many, their lack of quality connections and loneliness is accompanied by other vulnerabilities – a lower income, long-term health conditions, mental health issues, the challenges of coming to the UK as a refugee or person seeking asylum.
The report also identified that some groups were more likely to experience loneliness than others – people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, parents, young people, those living with health conditions, people on lower incomes and those with limited access to digital technology and the internet.
These findings correspond with those of a previous Red Cross study – Barriers to Belonging – that showed people from BAME communities are at higher risk of experiencing certain factors that cause loneliness, like discrimination and feelings of not belonging.
Life after lockdown finds that more than half of people from BAME backgrounds (52 per cent) feel like their neighbours are strangers, compared to 37 per cent of the population as a whole.
The British Red Cross has been helping people throughout the coronavirus crisis, supporting people who are lonely through its coronavirus support line and distributing wellbeing packages that include physical exercises, games, colouring-in books, recipes and houseplants.
The charity – which runs its own Connecting Communities social prescribing scheme that launched six new Sport England-backed services for over-55s at Blackpool, Blyth, Cambourne and Redruth, Newcastle, Oldham and Southampton at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis – is now calling for the needs of those most vulnerable to loneliness to be put first.
The Red Cross knows, through experience, what matters most – one-to-one proper conversations, contact with a loved one, accessing the internet or phone data and learning how to use that technology in the first place.
Early this week, the British Red Cross welcomed the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announcement of a new £5m fund to tackle loneliness.
The organisation will receive £610,000 to support young people, BAME communities, refugees, those with limited access to digital technology and people with health issues.
Through the coronavirus crisis, the Red Cross has given phones, tablets and data bundles to refugees so they can access the internet and get in touch with loved ones as well as identifying the most vulnerable people and assisting them through its hardship fund.
British Red Cross executive director Zoë Abrams said:
“For many, life before the lockdown was lonely already. We want to make sure no one is left behind as restrictions ease.
“The better connected we are, the more resilient we are – especially during emergencies. It’s important to recognise that even as it becomes easier for people to connect again, some will still find this a real challenge to do.
“We’re talking about some very vulnerable people – they might have long-term health conditions, mental health issues, difficulty paying the bills. We must all work together to make sure the understanding, will and funding is there to help the most isolated and tackle the root causes of loneliness itself.”
Personal story – ‘Loneliness isn’t just boring – it’s depressing’
Yedder, 26, from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, came to the UK as a refugee from Morocco.
Adapting to new circumstances, a ‘new culture and community’ and struggling with loneliness, he was supported by the British Red Cross Surviving to Thriving project to connect with people and groups around him.
Now looking forward to the end of lockdown, Yedder is enrolled on an exercise, health and nutrition course at Leeds Trinity University that starts in September and planning to launch a YouTube channel focussed on fitness and healthy eating.
The coronavirus crisis has presented Yedder with further challenges but he is feeling positive about his future and remains in touch with friends and activities thanks to Zoom calls and WhatsApp groups.
“I’m an active person; it’s just my nature. I cannot sit alone in my room doing nothing.
“Loneliness isn’t just boring – it’s depressing. But my exercise makes me feel good and helps me break the negative energy.
“I’m involved in the Leeds Refugee Council and British Red Cross and studying at college online.
“I’m going to set up a YouTube channel that focusses on sports, exercise, burning fat and nutrition.
“I’m looking to turn a new page in my life, leave the past in the past and look forward to the future.”
The Connector’s story – ‘I go to bed and am thinking who have I missed? What can we do for them?’
Linda Bray works as a community connector for the British Red Cross in Southampton and has been supporting 16 vulnerable individuals around the clock during the lockdown.
Before coronavirus, most of her service users lived active lives. But social distancing rules mean many who live alone are at risk of becoming isolated for the first time.
Through the course of her work she has uncovered real hardship.
“The majority of them would be going out into the community, but can’t now.
“Sometimes I’m the only person they speak to all week. Some people are really proud so they don’t like to say they are having difficulties.”
Another risk posed by staying at home is that a lack of exercise will lead to muscle wastage in older people, so Linda is working hard to motivate people to stay active at home.
“We need them to keep their stability in their legs so that when they can, they can start venturing out and are not left with legs that are very weak.
“Everyone is a different conversation. One lady likes to watch soaps on TV, so I tell her to stomp every time the adverts are on. There’s another lady was loves her cups of tea, so when she goes to make a cup, I have got her walking on the spot while her kettle is brewing.”
Being able to support vulnerable individuals in her community at a time of global crisis is a job Linda adores.
“I absolutely love this job, and I feel really fortunate to be able to deliver this service. I go to bed and am thinking who have I missed? What can we do for them?”