Tackling Loneliness & Isolation

Show notes (summary)

As many as 3.7 million adults in the UK say they feel lonely or isolated. For this episode, we’re joined by Amy Chambers from Leicestershire and Rutland RCC, who dispels a few of the myths about loneliness and explains how they’ve been tackling the issue and getting village halls involved.

Transcript: Season 1 / Episode 0

Johnny Thomson 00:00
Hello and welcome to The Village Halls Podcast sponsored by Allied Westminster, the UK is largest specialised provider of village hall insurance and the home of VillageGuard. According to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics around 3.7 million adults in the UK say they feel lonely or isolated. Hardly surprisingly, this figure is up by as much as 40% since early 2020, with periods of lockdown clearly making what was already a significant problem for many, even worse. Now of course, no one is immune from loneliness. It affects young and old and impacts on those living in rural as well as urban communities. Amy Chambers, who is Service Lead at Leicestershire and Rutland RCC, which is the region’s rural community council charity, has been playing a big part in tackling loneliness and she’s kindly agreed to talk to me today about this issue,what they’ve been up to there and and also how village halls can get involved. Hi, Amy.

Amy Chambers 01:00
Good morning, Johnny.

Johnny Thomson 01:01
How are you?

Amy Chambers 01:02
I’m good. Thank you. Not too bad on this lovely morning. How are you?

Johnny Thomson 01:05
Yeah, I’m good. I’m good. Thanks. Good. Now, now before we talk about people struggling with isolation, tell me a little bit about Leicestershire and Rutland RCC and also what your relationship is with village halls in the region.

Amy Chambers 01:17
Absolutely. So Leicestershire and Rutland Rural Community Council is a charity. Our focus is on providing support and representation to the rural communities across the two counties. We have a long standing history of working with village halls and community buildings in a wider sense too, in which we support them with their work and particularly have a close relationship with trustees in providing advice and assistance on matters relating to village halls. And that more recently has expanded across a plethora of work, looking at helping them to support their communities in terms of overall wellbeing and of course the reason why we’re here this morning, to tackle loneliness in their communities as well

Johnny Thomson 02:00
And there are equivalents of you as well, isn’t there in different different regions.

Amy Chambers 02:03
Yes, so it is slightly different names in the different areas, but there are different equivalents to us across the sort of regions in which they do similar work supporting the rural communities within their county.

Johnny Thomson 02:16
Now I know loneliness has become a big drive for you there. Why is it something that you’ve been focusing on so much?

Amy Chambers 02:24
So we’ve just heard you speak there about the national statistics and the picture is pretty similar for us here in Leicestershire and Rutland. So, before the pandemic, the statistics suggested that over 37,000 people across our rural communities within Leicestershire and Rutland suffer from either social isolation or loneliness over the last two years. So we see that there’s a similar picture and we also know that that has increased as you say, throughout the current situation. And it’s become a primary focus of our work over the last year or so, and will continue to be a focus of our work, as I say, we know that it’s going to be on the increase. And so it’s very important we tackle that and the sort of effects that that has on both mental and physical health as well.

Johnny Thomson 03:11
And what kind of, what part can rural communities and particularly village halls, for example, play in tackling this issue.

Amy Chambers 03:18
So firstly, we, as I say, work closely with halls and the things that they are already doing, the activities that are in place are absolutely fantastic and for a large proportion of people, those activities do provide an opportunity for connection and meaningful interaction. And I think thats thing with loneliness. There’s a distinction between loneliness and social isolation. So, you can feel lonely, but still be interactive and still have connections. It’s, it’s that emphasis on whether you find it meaningful, and whether it’s purposeful for you in your life and bringing that sense of connectedness can come in, in many ways. Equally, it’s not always a constant feeling. It can occur at certain times, weekends, holidays. And so within communities, although you may feel that there’s lots of provision available, there are still gaps in supporting certain people with their own feelings of loneliness, or social isolation. There’s still a stigma in some sense around loneliness and a common misconception really that just because there’s an active community, that means that there’s going to be no individuals suffering or that there’s going to be opportunities for people to become connected, but it’s not always the case. Some people may not feel comfortable to interact within formal groups. So groups that are dominated by sort of organised hobbies, interests, beliefs, that kind of thing, are not always appropriate. Some people don’t feel confident or comfortable to do that. And so, our work with village halls and the support that we’re trying to provide through a two part initiative, which I’m sure we’ll come on to shortly, is aimed at supporting village halls to gain awareness of the wider scope of supporting people. How it can be done in a more informal way so that it’s accessible to everybody, and also how they can be interactive and more forthcoming with tackling the issue by reaching out to people who may not, as I say, want to take part into organised groups, but may also be looking for support.

Johnny Thomson 05:24
Yeah, it’s fascinating. So what you’re saying is, it’s easy to imagine that the best way of tackling loneliness is just to offer or a range of activities for people to participate in, and that’s sort of what village halls naturally do, but really, that’s not always enough. It’s an interesting perspective. Now, I know you and others there at the RCC have been getting out and about in the community to tackle loneliness and isolation yourselves and you’ve been approaching that in a slightly different way as well. How have you been going about it Amy and what kind of people are you finding are particularly vulnerable?

Amy Chambers 05:55
Yeah. So we are, as I say, offering an initiative that’s sort of two pronged, really. So we have a mobile pop up cafe that pertains to make up our Coffee Connect project. So we travelled to rural communities across Leicestershire and Rutland and we provide a welcoming and non stigmatised informal space for people to come and have a hot drink tea or a coffee. One of the perks of that is that we’ve got a nice, shiny barista coffee kit. So you will get a top quality drink. The main reason for us doing that is to help tackle the issue of loneliness in a very informal and approachable way. So we’re hoping that everybody of all ages of all demographics will feel comfortable to just pop by, grab a free drink, have a quick chat with us and come away feeling either more connected or having links into services or information that they may need. A big part of that for us, is making sure that we stick within our sort of what we plan to do around it being non stigmatised and informal. So that means that there are no strings attached, we don’t really brand ourselves as being there to tackle loneliness, per se, but just really to interact with people in the community and have a casual conversation and give out the free drinks. But those who do need the support, know that we’re there to help if needed.

Johnny Thomson 07:19
Yeah, great idea. Because it’s rather than just being a big event, a big sort of social gathering, that would certainly put some people off, it’s just about come and have a good cup of coffee. Yeah, I like that. It’s great. What else have you been up to?

Amy Chambers 07:35
So the other part of what we offer is our in-touch loneliness awareness sessions. And these have been designed to help those that attend to take action in tackling loneliness. And what we’ll do in this session is cover the common causes and effects of loneliness to give you a better understanding, but then take you through ways in which you can reach out, connect, help others, and share sort of tools and resources that you can use to do that. So it’s all about raising awareness of the subject matter, but then making it applicable to you in your specific community and how you could use the resources that we’ll provide to make a difference for the residents that are in your community.

Johnny Thomson 08:13
So I guess that’s a really good starting point, isn’t it, for people who are connected with village halls for them to understand the issue? And then understand a little bit more about about how they can tackle it? Yeah?

Amy Chambers 08:23
Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, the training’s available to anyone, to anyone that lives volunteers, or works in Leicestershire, but particularly those who have quite an influential position. So people that work within village halls or are quite active within their community would benefit from the training as it will explore ways that you can have an influence through the work that you’re already doing.

Johnny Thomson 08:46
And as I mentioned before, are you finding any people that are particularly vulnerable? Or is this something that really genuinely does affect everyone across the board?

Amy Chambers 08:57
It really does. It really does. And I think we knew that before we started. We can see that from the statistics. There are high levels within all of the age groups, but I suppose more prominently for us, it seemed through anecdotal evidence, and it seemed through the the case studies and the scenarios that arise for us when we are out in the coffee van. Although limited because of the pandemic, we have managed to go out and about and get ourselves out there. And so we’ve seen a very varied sort of range of people and circumstances, from what we’ve done. Just one example, we visited a location in the north-west of Leicestershire, in which we were there for a few consecutive weeks and over that time, a particular group of individuals who were dog walkers, began to meet up regularly. So Coffee Connect was was the end-point to their dog-walking journey. And within that group there were people of very varied ages, so some younger and some older people and they themselves had stated that without our support, and without Coffee Connect being there, they perhaps wouldn’t have connected or interacted with each other. But as a result of coming together and making the connection through Coffee Connect, they’ve now set up a Whatsapp group, so they regularly message each other and they plan on going for breakfast when the restrictions allow. So, it’s a real long-lasting friendship really that’s been created there amongst people of different age groups in different demographics living in different areas of the community, who as I say otherwise would not have collided and interacted with each other. But there’s a real meaningful relationship that’s been brought from that. And it’s beneficial for everybody involved, it helps to alleviate the feelings, particularly during the pandemic, for everyone. So yeah, it certainly is something that affects everyone under every circumstance, and to varying degrees as well.

Johnny Thomson 10:55
Yeah, no, that’s excellent, brilliant, brilliant stuff Amy. Is there anything else you’d like to get across about this or, or any other issues?

Amy Chambers 11:03
Yeah, I think like I mentioned earlier, as well as looking at from the perspective of providing an informal space rather than structured services, there’s also an element to thinking about this from the perspective that as I say, not everybody that you perceive to be happy and connected is, and it’s really an individual feeling and it’s really different for different people. So one example of that a young lady that we met in Market Harborough, she was attending our Coffee Connect van over several weeks and explained to us that her daughter had just gone away to university and she was very active, she regularly socialised with friends, and she had a support network. So, from an outsider, it would appear that she socialised, she engaged in hobbies. But she’d recently been through a bereavement and was struggling. And she explained to us that although she had that support and social network, she didn’t feel like anyone within that was approachable to share her particular feelings at that time, of grief and the support that she required for the bereavement, that she’d unfortunately suffered. From coming to Coffee Connect, having that opportunity to speak to somebody that she didn’t know, which is sometimes the case and just offload her feelings and also gain some information on signposting of where she could then go for support was really useful for her. And it just further highlights the issue of stigma around loneliness, too. So it’s just an awareness that not everybody that to the eye would seem sociable and happy, is always feeling that way. And deep down, they can be suffering with loneliness.

Johnny Thomson 12:44
Brilliant. Well, thanks for highlighting the problem Amy and also for dispelling, you know, one or two of the myths around loneliness. I suppose the key message here is it’s not always enough to just offer up social activities, that’s not going to be the magical thing that’s going to change things for people out there in the community. Perhaps, we all need to do more encourage involvement and recognise that not everyone wants to always be part of a group, for example, or as you say people who are part of a group, you can’t just assume that they aren’t feeling isolated or, or don’t have somebody to connect to in a way, so yeah, fantastic stuff. Sometimes it’s that one to one contact that you talk about that people crave as well, and it doesn’t have to be somebody, or they would prefer it to be somebody that they don’t know.

Amy Chambers 13:23
Yeah, absolutely. I’d agree with that.

Johnny Thomson 13:36
Well thanks, you’ve certainly put a different perspective on loneliness Amy and good luck with all the hard work you’ve been putting in there and of course, the work you’re doing there with village halls as well. It hasn’t been an easy time has it, but now there’s a real opportunity to turn things around as well.

Amy Chambers 13:51
Absolutely and we’re looking forward to moving our work forward now that we can and as restrictions ease and as you say, we know that the issue is going to be there more than ever before. And so we’re here and ready to support communities in any way we can.

Johnny Thomson 14:04
Brilliant Well, thanks again Amy and thanks too to our headline sponsor and specialist insurance provider Allied Westminster for making our podcast possible and whose services you can discover more about villageguard.com. And to online booking system provider Hallmaster who also sponsor our show and who can be found at hallmaster.co.uk. You’ve been listening to The Village Halls Podcast, a unique listening community for Britain’s village church and community halls, and anyone interested in the vital community services they provide. We’ll be back again in around two weeks time with another episode. So if you haven’t already, please visit thevillagehallspodcast.com to subscribe, sign up for updates, link through to our social media pages and to find out more. Until the next time. Goodbye for now.