Old woman lonely

North Yorkshire tackling loneliness to prevent major health issues

North Yorkshire Council has announced that tens of thousands of people are to be given additional support as they experience loneliness, as part of a county-wide strategy to tackle social isolation.

The council is coordinating a project that will see residents who are experiencing loneliness given advice and help that will be aimed at preventing the health implications of social isolation. This will be done through the Stay Healthy, Independent and Connected project, with grants being awarded to 25 charities and community organisations that look to point those who are lonely towards specialist help and ways to engage in the community more.

Research has indicated that those who are going through isolation are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those who have healthy social relationships, with loneliness proving to be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

Councillor Michael Harrison, Executive Member for Health and Adult Services, said:

“The effects of loneliness are wide-ranging and often complex and can affect anyone from any section of society.

“It is obviously a problem that is of huge concern across the whole of the country, but in North Yorkshire there are very specific issues we are having to deal with.

“So many communities live in deeply rural areas, and it is often difficult to reach those most in need. But this new co-ordinated approach, which is being led by North Yorkshire Council, will provide life-changing support and help to ensure that we tackle loneliness as effectively as possible.”

The new grants were launched at the beginning of April, the same time as the new council, and a total of £405,000 is being allocated through the council’s health and adult services directorate. This funding will be utilised to promote activities and events that can help those experiencing loneliness to engage with the community, such as coffee mornings and gardening clubs. Community transport schemes are also being worked on, with those who are lonely being given the chance to travel to events.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, community support organisations proved invaluable, and those close links are being built upon through this project. Improving the health, wellbeing and independence of adults who are often going through isolation is being supported by the council’s Living Well Service, whilst the preventions grants are also to dovetail with an existing scheme that will create community anchors across the county.

Announced in March, the total of £1.5 million in funding will be spread over the course of three years and will build up the capacity of community groups to act as points of contact for the council. This will help the public to access advice and support, with the potential to increase community resilience.

Executive Member for Corporate Services, Cllr David Chance, added:

“Communities throughout North Yorkshire have come together in recent years through some of the toughest times, helping the most vulnerable members of society through Covid-19 and now the cost-of-living crisis.

“We are committed to helping ensure that these strong community links are nurtured and grow to provide support for anyone who feels the effects of social isolation.”

The council estimates that as many as 30,000 people – approximately 6% of the population – in the county that are aged 16 or over may be going through chronic loneliness. Alongside this, 105,000 residents have been diagnosed with a health condition or disability, according to the latest available data, with 39,000 residents widowed and 132,490 residents of the county single.

Skipton Step Into Action is one of the community organisations that will benefit from the prevention grant funding and was established during the pandemic. It was launched just before the first lockdown and recruited 360 volunteers to collect shopping and prescriptions for those in society who are the most vulnerable. Alongside this, those who feel social isolated are supported through a series of initiatives including the Ground Yourself in Green project that sees a series of arts, crafts, yoga, and mindfulness events being held every Thursday between April and September, in Skipton’s Aireville Park. The project has also established a wellbeing café, with transport services being developed following the purchase of a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.

Video Credit: North Yorkshire Council

Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Skipton Step Into Action, Charlotte McKeown, said:

“The pandemic highlighted issues with social isolation that were already evident, but it brought into sharp focus that there are so many people out there who need help and support.

“Collaboration is so important across the whole of the voluntary sector, as we are able to help support and bring together our resources.

“Having one council now will make sure there is a strong voice for us all, and it well help to make sure that the services we provide are as effective and efficient as possible.”

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