Developing a community-led loneliness strategy for North Yorkshire
The big ideas
In this practice example from Community First Yorkshire Jenny Laycock, Head of Projects, and Laura Thomas, Project Manager, share how they put an understanding of what loneliness looks and feels like in North Yorkshire alongside evidence of loneliness need and ‘what works’. Through this work, Be Social, Be Well was developed: a Strategic Framework for tackling loneliness in North Yorkshire’.
Core to this work was:
1: Our relationships and positive social connections are essential for us to thrive
- The quality of our relationships and friendships at home, at work and in our communities matter;
- Our partner relationship is the second biggest driver of our life satisfaction;
- Having someone to rely on in times of trouble is the top driver of difference between high and low wellbeing countries.
2: How strategies are developed and implemented matters
Implementation strategies are the specific means or methods used to adopt, monitor and sustain a wellbeing strategy. Implementation strategies can include:
- Developing stakeholder relationships and gaining trust
- Building capability; engaging colleagues
- Adapting and tailoring to context
- Using evaluative & iterative approaches
- Changing the infrastructure
- Utilising financial strategies
About the project
Community First Yorkshire is the Rural Community Council for North, South and West Yorkshire. North Yorkshire County Council commissions Community First Yorkshire to support the local voluntary, community and social enterprise sector. The charity works closely with the Council’s Stronger Communities’ team, and provides practical support and rural advocacy to voluntary and community organisations, parish councils and social enterprises through networks, projects and services.
The Charity received funding for its work on loneliness from the National Lottery Building Connections Fund, North Yorkshire County Council and DEFRA. A multi-agency steering group ensured awareness of the wider loneliness agenda, shaped the strategy and delivery of the project activities. SkyBlue research and evaluation were commissioned to undertake the literature review and gather evidence and stories of lived experience for the strategy.
What led to this work?
In 2017, the Director of Public Health’s Annual Report, Healthy Transitions: Growing old in North Yorkshire, highlighted how staying socially connected to others is crucial to health and wellbeing as people age. It also emphasised how developing age-friendly communities can provide a framework to bring these activities together.
“The pursuit of ever-increasing life spans can come at the expense of quality of life both from an individual and societal perspective. Accepting that life has a beginning, middle and end, and is lived in a specific social context may help us focus as much on the quality of life as the length of life. The notion of a “good life” may once again inform the aims of public health.”
Source: DPH Annual Report, 2017
That same year, the Jo Cox Foundation launched their call to action: Combatting loneliness one conversation at a time. A year later the Government published its national strategy to tackle national loneliness. Locally, there was a real desire to understand how to take the evidence of what worked to tackle loneliness, and deliver this in the North Yorkshire context.
Working with North Yorkshire County Council and with support from the Stronger Communities team and the Health & Wellbeing Board, Community First Yorkshire applied for and received an award from the National Lottery Building Connections Fund to turbo-charge the county’s response to tackling loneliness.
Evidence-informed strategy brought to life with local voices
At the heart of the two-year project was a desire to bring partners together across organisations, age groups, settings and sectors, to raise awareness of the many activities provided by voluntary and community organisations. There was a need to bring insight from partners together to produce an evidence-informed strategy for action with a strong North Yorkshire voice at its heart.
“The stories of people in North Yorkshire who have experienced loneliness, and who have been able to overcome that feeling, have inspired this Strategic Framework. By better understanding what caused those feelings, their consequences and how each person was able to help themselves, or be helped by others, it has been possible to suggest practical ways in which everyone can play their part to tackle loneliness in North Yorkshire.”
(Be Social; Be Well, Community First Yorkshire 2020, p. 3)
The strategic framework, Be Social; Be Well, has five ambitions:
- Eliminate stigma
- Make connection easier
- Kindness in communities
- Foster meaningful relationships
- Build enlightened services
For each of these areas, Community First Yorkshire shared lived experience as well as actions that can make a difference. The hope was to bring together a number of different experiences of loneliness from across North Yorkshire, from rural communities and small towns, to encourage more honest conversations and dialogue around the realities of isolation and loneliness across the county; challenging the stigma and embarrassment which often surrounds it and initiating local conversations to help tackle it.
Community resources were prepared to support the aim of the project: campaign resources and worksheets to help tackle loneliness, a toolkit to develop community connections and a welcome pack template for people moving into an area that can be tailored for each town and village.
What worked well
- The role of the Director of Public Health’s Annual Report sparked debate, encouraged sharing of practical ideas and ultimately, challenged how to think about ageing in North Yorkshire.
- The voluntary and community sector leading the way in tackling loneliness and providing the missing services showed authenticity and built trust, captured in the Voices of North Yorkshire campaign.
- Lived experience was prominent in the final strategy, enabling the audience to understand the potential needs of people in the local area, and empathise with the circumstances and goals of different groups of residents
- Bringing together lived experience, practice knowledge and evidence of ‘what works’ delivered a robust policy framing, tailored to the North Yorkshire context.
- Working across the life course ensured a wide range of partners were engaged. Examples include the ‘Stand up to youth loneliness’ campaign which was aimed at 11-18s and a working-age campaign preparing for retirement.
- Adopting a range of implementation strategies including aligning partners’ activities, identifying gaps, encouraging people to talk about loneliness and creative approaches to securing funding, sustained the approach beyond the publication of the framework.
- Trying to balance evidence and data, while really making the strategy relatable
The project aimed to show how communities, service providers and individuals could all take action. It was important to quantify the ‘trigger points’ for loneliness and show the numbers and scale, but also get the personal message across that you can feel lonely, and it is ok. And that talking about it is ok too.
- Being agile and flexing the framework to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic
When the strategy was eventually published, in Autumn 2020, a lot more people were talking about loneliness. In many cases people were able to say, ‘I know what that feels like’, or ‘I am aware of that’, because many had personal experience. Community First Yorkshire used this insight to show how service providers can tailor their support, be flexible and join up their offers with others to have the most impact. The pandemic highlighted how communities can come together, people helping neighbours, building connections. The challenge is sustaining and building on this momentum.
- Continue to promote and encourage the use of the strategic framework across North Yorkshire using networks of public bodies and the voluntary and community sector.
- Work with decision makers to further embed the action plan in their funding and projects to address loneliness.
- Make the tools and resources widely available to benefit communities and individuals going forward.
Find out more
This practice example was prepared in October 2020 by Joanne Smithson, Head of Implementation & Learning at the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, in conversation with Jenny Laycock, Head of Projects, and Laura Thomas, Project Manager, from Community First Yorkshire.
Smithson, J.C. (2021) Practice Example: Developing a community-led loneliness strategy for North Yorkshire. What Works Centre for Wellbeing.
The Centre’s work with Local Government and the Health Sector is supported by The Health Foundation, an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and health care for people in the UK.