“A subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship. It happens when we have a mismatch between the quantity and quality of social relationships that we have, and those that we want.”
I’ve recently been delivering my course, ‘Lost – recognising and responding to loneliness.’ The course was designed in collaboration with customers from across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.
VOICES commissioned me to spread the word through their citywide learning programme1, especially regarding the amount of people across Stoke-on-Trent who are experiencing loneliness. The VOICES project is aimed at testing alternative approaches to tackling systemic barriers to effective support along with learning and evaluation to identify what works well. The project has achieved numerous examples of coproduction and lived experience (Expert Citizens) is included in the design, development and delivery at all levels.
I was asked to create the course to assist workers in recognising the signs of loneliness, tackle the issue, listen to customers and support people into embracing company and companionship. Learners are often shocked by the figures and statistics relating to loneliness, especially the amount of young people and young parents who are isolated and alone. There’s a slight myth that loneliness only affects older people, of course it is true that older people do experience isolation, it’s just a sad state of affairs that every strata of society is affected. It’s a fact that in the 21st century, social media has made it seem that we are connected to so many people, when in fact, we have become far more insular and inward looking.
When I began my research for the course, oh I do love my exploration of a subject, I interviewed a teenager, (who I’ll call Dan for the purposes of this article), Dan has autism and when I asked him how many friends he had, he said, ‘five hundred and seventeen.’ I thought that was pretty definite and when I asked how many of those friends he had actually met, he sat and thought about my question and responded with, ‘four.’ His Mum was at the end of her tether as she explained that Dan never left the house, sitting at his desk in his bedroom, playing his games and living in a virtual world of virtual friends. The more connected he was to computer-generated friends the less he saw his actual friends. I use some of Dan’s comments on the training and you’ll be pleased to read he now goes along to a drama group and at Christmas is starring in a pantomime. It’s very rewarding asking him how many friends he has now. Dan sees his Facebook and gaming chums as something very different and now has real connections to other young people, both mainstream learners and other young people with autism.
I’ve incorporated the governments ‘A Connected Society – a strategy for tackling loneliness’ into the course and used the research to develop and design a board game that I’ve christened, ‘Connected.’ Learners are loving the game and have asked that I bespoke it for their organisations.
Do pop along to the training, it’s fun, interactive, hands on and you’ll hear some very rewarding testimonials from people across Stoke who feel more linked to their family, friends and community.
VOICES are ensuring that we all play a role in building a more socially connected society. Sharon Sharman. Learning and Evaluation Manager at VOICES says, “People who are experiencing multiple needs often face challenges and barriers in trying to engage and sustain engagement with services; navigating the complex system of support whilst having no fixed abode, being released from hospital or prison, waiting for initial appointments with no family or friends to be with, is a very lonely journey to embark upon. It is crucial that, when people do engage with services, we do not overlook the impact of loneliness. Frontline workers are in the right position to explore opportunities for customers to connect with others and their community. Taking a serious approach to a person’s meaningful use of time can mean a huge difference to their self-esteem, well-being and confidence. Peer Mentors are a great asset in providing companionship and reassurance and often are the link between the customer and opportunities within the community that can provide both new and positive relationships, but also a sense of belonging and purpose. These are the things that provide us with hope and help us to navigate a more positive lifestyle”.
The feedback from the learners has been 100% positive, with some lovely comments, such as; ‘inspirational,’ ‘thought-provoking’ and ‘a brilliant board game!’
1: VOICES is funded by The National Lottery Community Fund
Here is the link to the article on the Voices website: https://www.voicesofstoke.org.uk/2019/12/12/lost-recognising-and-responding-to-loneliness/