There is growing interest in social prescribing – services which refer people to non-clinical support within communities and the voluntary sector – as a means of improving health outcomes and reducing demand for health services.

But the British Red Cross and Co-op believe it can also be used to address loneliness.

The organisations published a Shared Learning Report into the range of services helping adults of all ages who are lonely or at risk of loneliness, which showed that getting people involved with volunteering, sports activities, clubs and support groups in their local area are very effective ways of tackling the issue.

This kind of support can dramatically improve people’s wellbeing, preventing them from falling into chronic loneliness where they feel often or always lonely – which can have devastating effects on their physical and mental health 

The British Red Cross/Co-op pilot programme to tackle loneliness, Connecting Communities, has helped thousands of lonely and social isolated people, offering one of the largest social prescribing services in terms of scale (in over 30 locations around the UK and Isle of Man from the Shetlands to Cornwall).

The Connecting Communities scheme sees staff and volunteer ‘Community Connectors’ provide tailored one-to-one support to individuals who have been referred to the service.

Following a goal-setting meeting, staff and volunteers begin a flexible 12-week programme aimed at reconnecting people with their communities, building up their confidence and linking them up with social activities and groups they are interested in ranging from: fishing clubs, falconry centres, dancing classes, exercise groups, the WI, coffee evenings, attending parent and baby groups and much more. 

Social Prescribing Can Be Used to Reduce Loneliness
Photo: Dan Prince/British Red Cross

Wendy Tibbles, 74, was referred to the Connecting Communities service following a stay in hospital due to a bad fall. She was referred by social services after they noticed she was feeling down. While on the ward, some of her friends had moved away and she had fallen out with her family, leaving her feeling quite lonely. Once she got home mobility issues also made it difficult for Wendy to get out and about, adding to her sense of isolation.

“This left me very inward, in myself. Before my fall, I was able to get out, I was here, there and everywhere because I was never able to sit indoors after my retirement. I didn’t want to sit inside and vegetate, that isn’t me,” she said.

Wendy was introduced to one of our volunteers, Hazel, who helped her reconnect with her community, linking her up with her local WI group and taking her along to meet ups where she has been able to make new friends.

“If it wasn’t for the help I’ve got, I would just be at home. The Red Cross has given me a great sense of ‘I can’, instead of ‘I can’t’,” Wendy said.

The first ever International Social Prescribing Day was held on the 14th March 2019. “It is fantastic to see a growing recognition for social prescribing,” said Zoë Abrams, Executive Director of Communications & Advocacy at the British Red Cross. “Its potential value in improving physical health and wellbeing is now well recognised, but our experience shows that social prescribing can also dramatically help people experiencing loneliness.

“Working with the Co-op, our Connecting Communities services have supported over 7,000 people to overcome loneliness in more than 30 areas of the UK and Isle of Man.

“Many of the people we see simply need a little bit of support – somebody to talk to, listen to their needs and help them reconnect with their communities and friends. By linking them up with social activities and groups in their area, we can help them to overcome loneliness.

“NHS England’s commitment to embed social prescribing link workers across all health and care systems will go a long way to ensuring people get the support they need to combat loneliness and live happier, healthier lives.”

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Nisha Kotecha is the Founder of Good News Shared. Having worked and volunteered for charities in the UK for over 10 years, Nisha is on a mission to highlight how amazing charities are.

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