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How I addressed loneliness in my community

Since 2019, Barnfield Big Local resident, Susan Musindi, has been part of our learning cluster exploring loneliness and social isolation and the ways communities can address it. Here, she tells us what the learning experience has meant to her and how it has played an important role in her community work.

Hello Susan! Thanks for speaking with us today. First of all, what inspired you to get involved in the Loneliness and social isolation learning cluster?

I was keen to get involved as I’m already quite active in my Big Local area in Barnfield, south east London, and had become aware that there were people in the area who were feeling lonely and isolated. One of our partnership members works for the NHS and had talked about the ways in which the NHS were addressing the issue – and this was before the pandemic. Hearing about strategies and ideas on how it can be tackled inspired me to take action and make a difference in the community. Before this, I had no idea about what I could do.

Lots of people who are lonely or isolated aren’t aware of it, so they don’t reach out for help.

So when I saw the Loneliness and social isolation cluster promoted on Local Trust’s Facebook, I thought; this is what I’ve been looking for.

What would you say has been your highlight of being involved in the learning cluster?

It’s been really valuable to hear from other Big Local areas about their experiences with loneliness in the community and what they have been doing to combat it. A common theme that has arisen is elderly people experiencing loneliness because the people they live with go out to work during the day and then are too tired in the evening to socialise. But the fact that they live with others means they are often not considered to be isolated and are overlooked in strategies to address loneliness.

What do you think are the main things you’ve learnt from the sessions?

I have learned to understand how somebody can become lonely or isolated, and spot the signs in the community – especially the fact that you can be surrounded by people but still experience feelings of isolation. I looked at people in my group and realised it even included me. I think that lots of people who are lonely or isolated aren’t even aware of it, which means they don’t reach out for help.

Our Walk and Talk sessions have been a great way to get people out and connecting with one another again.

For example, I knew a young mother in the community who was spending lots of time in the house on her own and then looking after her children in the evening and on weekends. I invited her to come along to the group I run in the community hub on a Tuesday and I think it’s made a big difference to her already. There are a few people in a similar situation and I think they find it hugely valuable to be able to share their experiences and connect with one another.

Another really interesting thing I’ve learned is that loneliness is not just experienced by older generations. The pandemic really highlighted the way in which young people can also suffer from loneliness and isolation.

How have you taken steps to make a difference in your community?

I have started a Walk and Talk group every week where local people can come along and chat to their neighbours. Especially as lockdown restrictions are easing, it has been a great way to get people out of the house and connecting with one another again. We have a range of people who join the session, including a 91-year old lady!

It’s great to have the knowledge and resources to signpost people to where they can get support.

People really like having the structure of a weekly commitment and something to look forward to. It’s also a great way for people to socialise without the pressure other social activities.

And finally, what would you say to anyone who is looking to tackle similar issues in their community?

I would definitely recommend taking steps to increase your understanding of the issue and learning from other groups who have taken action. It’s great to have the knowledge and resources to signpost people to where they can get support with their mental health or with feelings of loneliness and isolation, like counselling services.

Once you know how to spot it, you can start making a real difference in your neighbourhood.

Inspired by Susan’s story? Download our handbook on community responses to loneliness for all the tips and inspiration you need to make a difference in your neighbourhood.