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Plans and activities

A community response to loneliness

A handbook of tips, activities and inspiration

Social connections are the fabric of our communities. They enable all those day-to-day interactions that provide us with a sense of belonging. And they create the conditions for us to do the things we enjoy and that matter to us most.

Community groups, like the 150 Big Local partnerships located around England, have an important role to play in creating positive communities where social connections can thrive and loneliness and social isolation can be identified and reduced.

Big Local partnerships are already doing lots in their communities to prevent and reduce loneliness and social isolation. This handbook offers a unique insight into how community and resident groups can address loneliness themselves.

Download handbook

It will:

  • help to define loneliness and social isolation and examine the impact on individuals and communities
  • describe some of the causes (risk factors) and the groups most likely to be affected
  • explore key questions you might want to ask to strengthen your impact and reach in your community
  • share ideas from Big Local areas and beyond
  • give links to relevant organisations and resources.


Section 1

What is loneliness and social isolation?

We all feel lonely sometimes, even if we have lots of social connections. Loneliness
is that empty, negative feeling where we yearn for companionship that seems
unavailable or out of reach.

Loneliness: a definition
Types of loneliness
Emotional loneliness
Social loneliness
Existential loneliness
What is the difference between loneliness and social isolation?

Who experiences loneliness?

Most of us will experience loneliness at some point in our lives. Around half (45%) of adults in England say they feel lonely occasionally, sometimes or often, with 1 in 20 saying they feel lonely ‘often or always’.

Not the usual suspects
Young people
Older people

Causes and risk factors

Loneliness can have many different causes and can be triggered by many different
factors, which vary from person to person. These can be at the individual level,
connected to personal circumstances, or at the community or wider societal level.
Understanding these factors will help you identify those at risk in your community.

Individual level
Community level
Societal level
The impact of loneliness on individuals
Loneliness and health
The impact of loneliness on the wider community

Section 2

This section aims to give you some practical ideas on how to improve social connections in your community and provides some examples and links to useful resources.

Key questions
Keep, stop, start

Whatever you plan to do, here are some important things to consider:

Be clear about your purpose
Who are you trying to help?
Make every connection and conversation count
Include everyone
Be More Us Project
The Relationships Project

Practical ideas

In this section you will find some ideas and examples of things Big Local partnerships have been doing to prevent and reduce loneliness.

Identify people who may be lonely or isolated
Wick Award Big Local: Community research
Connect around shared interests
East Coseley Big Local: Pom-Poms 4 loneliness
Ramsey Million Big Local: The dogs meet cafe


Step into the circle if...
Activities that help people find meaning and purpose
Mablethorpe, Trusthorpe and Sutton-on-Sea Big Local: Men’s shed
Head, heart, and hands

Bring people together

Events at street, neighbourhood or community level can be a good way to encourage a sense of belonging. But often the difficulty is sustaining the connections made beyond one-off conversations on the day.

A key factor in the success of many Big Local partnerships has been to ensure that events are genuinely open to everyone in the community. So think about who is usually missing from your events. Who should you make a special effort to include? The way you describe an event is very important; for example, those without children may think that a ‘family fun day’ is not aimed at them.

More structured and active community involvement can be a great way to connect people. Coming together to solve a shared problem or to speak out about a shared issue (sometimes called an ‘asset-based approach to community development’) can create social cohesion and strengthen our communities.

The places and spaces where we come together to connect, both formally and informally, are also important. Make good use of your  ‘ordinary’ spaces, such as cafes and parks, to widen your reach.

Find out more at: Connection Coalition

The Friendly Bench™

Learning conversations

A learning conversation aims to find connections between the skills and passions of each individual and the needs of the wider community,

The Big Lunch
Transitions and life events

Intergenerational approaches

It is important to think about people across the life course when planning and delivering activities. We know that young people and older people experience loneliness but we must also not forget those in midlife.

Of course, it may sometimes make sense to target social activities at a particular age group. But there is evidence that deliberately bringing different ages together can be extremely positive, improving social connections through sharing spaces, skills and experience throughout the community. Young people can help older people get online and adult volunteers can help children read in schools, for example.

Find out more at: United for all ages

Apples and Honey Nightingale
Grace Mary to Lion Farm Big Local: Big Local Little Voices
Youth Focus: North East

Recovery and reconnection: learning from COVID-19

A community response
Wick Award Big Local: Community lunch
Brereton Million Big Local: COVID-19 support group
Devonshire West Big Local: Support and soup

Section 3:

Useful resources

Here are some additional resources you might find helpful in your community response to loneliness and social isolation.

Links to reports and resources
Where is this material from?
About Big Local