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Sep 28, 2023 | by What Works Centre for Wellbeing

Five years on: what works to tackle loneliness in research and practice?

Relationships are consistently found to be one of the strongest drivers of wellbeing. While evidence shows feeling lonely most, or all, of the time can have a negative impact on us. To help tackle loneliness and promote social connection, we’ve worked to grow the loneliness evidence base, consolidating insights from published literature and the experience of practitioners.

Here we introduce the key publications, and summarise highlights, research implications and recommendations for action.

Together with the Campaign to End Loneliness, we conducted:

  1. A rapid systematic review of what interventions work to tackle loneliness, analysing 95 studies and 101 different interventions, made up of published and grey literature from the last 15 years.
  2. Stakeholder engagement to map current delivery and evaluation practices in the field, involving interviews, focus groups, an online survey, and two round table discussions with nearly 100 professionals involved in delivering, funding or researching interventions.

This work was commissioned by the Department for Culture Media and Sport’s (DCMS) Tackling Loneliness Team. It updates our initial evidence synthesis from 2018, and builds on our previous work to refine the concept of loneliness, identify gaps in the evidence base, and develop tools to improve the evaluation of interventions.

This new synthesis can be used to shape further research and policymaking, as well as guide funding decisions and practitioner activity.

Key insights

We found: 

  • Strong quantitative evidence for multiple effective approaches to alleviating loneliness in the short-term.
  • Qualitative evidence on the potential enabling factors and causal pathways in loneliness alleviation, including community-focused connections, building trusting relationships, and the role of group settings.
  • Intervention effectiveness is influenced by a blend of ‘key elements’.
  • Evidence of holistic systems of support for tackling loneliness being developed.
  • Evidence of sectors and settings where interventions target loneliness less explicitly and practice is less established.
  • Whilst there is some similarity, the global evaluation literature does not necessarily reflect current UK tackling loneliness practice.

Findings from our rapid systematic review identified successful interventions that involve:

  • Structured therapeutic support and approaches to develop emotional and social skills.
  • Art and dance activities delivered in community-based settings.
  • Social support that develops social skills through targeted relationship-building skills and discussion-based activities.

Interviewees, from our stakeholder engagement, identified a blend of key elements important for intervention effectiveness including:

  • Being responsive to need/person-centred.
  • Trust and relationship building.
  • Providing environments for social engagement.

For more insights and findings, read our summary briefing and explore the full reports for more in depth analysis.

We also discussed the research and recommendations at an online event hosted by the Tackling Loneliness Hub. Membership of the hub is open to all professionals working on loneliness. 

What’s next? Recommendations and implications

Combating loneliness and promoting social connection are key priorities for governments, civil society, business, researchers and others. Organisations, such as charities, need support to gather robust and consistent loneliness data so that needs can be better understood, services can be evaluated and targeted effectively, and the case can be made for investment. Practitioners also need to feel that the effort that’s put into evaluation is making a difference. This is what we aim to do in finding, bringing together and sharing that learning; ideally we would do this in real-time as a ‘living review’.

Our research aims to improve practice and understanding, and sets out recommendations and implications for those that work in the field of loneliness:

Research implications

  • Understand ‘what’ improves loneliness and ‘how’ among specific groups – such as individuals at different life stages, ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ individuals.
  • Identify the breadth of practices across sectors, including examples of work that is not officially recognised as loneliness intervention work.

Commissioners and research funders

  • Commission primary research to address knowledge gaps for specific intervention types and populations. 
  • Explore the potential of linking data from evaluation of Tackling Loneliness  interventions to national healthcare and other datasets.


  • Work collaboratively with practitioners to build better understanding of Tackling Loneliness provision across a range of sectors.
  • Review the recommended loneliness measures to reassess their suitability for evaluating interventions.


  • Ensure implementation of psychological approaches to tackling loneliness.
  • Co-produce evaluations of Tackling Loneliness interventions with delivery organisations.

For a summary of further research implications and recommendations, see our briefing and for a comprehensive list, from both strands of work, read the full reports.


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