After another fruitful trip down to Truro, I am left with a good deal of food for thought. It has become clear ‘traditional’ forms of campaigning are unlikely to gain much support in an area where the people feel somewhat jaded and unconvinced that the “suits” are ever going to listen to “the grassroots”.
We are going to have to think outside the box and find new and creative ways of getting the community involved and urging the decision makers to listen.
Our first campaign strategy meeting for Cornwall was held at Truro Community Library at the beginning of this month. We attracted a diverse group of attendees, including representatives from older people’s forums, from faith groups and from the voluntary sector. All agreed that loneliness and isolation in older age is a huge issue in Cornwall, particularly so in a rural area with dispersed services and a large older population.
How then, can we improve and increase efforts to deal with this escalating problem?
At the Campaign to End Loneliness, we believe that health and wellbeing boards can provide a framework whereby the public and voluntary sectors, alongside the community itself, can work together to find solutions to address loneliness.
We think they can start by measuring loneliness in their JSNAs and then including a target to tackle it in their health and wellbeing strategies. This could lead to funding of low-level support services (which would of course be welcome) but it could also be by providing a forum for the public sector, voluntary sector and community to come together to find locally based solutions.
Responsibility does not just lie with the health or social care departments however. Action from transport teams to improve local bus services or providing more community transport to enable older people to get out and about more easily could also be key.
Whatever the local solutions may be, we firmly believe that there needs to be a conversation between those with the power to make decisions and allocate funds, and the people on the ground.
The question that will undoubtedly be asked; at a time when local authorities are looking to make cutbacks, how can they afford to invest in new services? We ask in return, how can they afford not to?
We have an ageing population and clear evidence that loneliness and isolation leads to cardiovascular disease, depression, and early onset dementia. It also triggers early admission into residential care, increased visits to GPs, ‘revolving door’ hospital admissions and ultimately early death. So it is vital that we act now.
Utilising existing data sets to identify isolated older individuals, mapping existing services, identifying gaps and providing a framework for those gaps to be filled, need not cost the earth. Indeed, many of the solutions will be locally based, community run and volunteer led.
And so, to return to the original point, how can we creatively engage the community in this campaign? The community must raise awareness (and their voices) for the Cornwall Health and Wellbeing Board to take action. A brainstorm with the group on Friday threw up the following points that should be considered when planning any sort of action:
- older people must be involved at every stage of the process
- the voices of the most isolated and most lonely must be heard in this campaign
- our message must be spread far and wide; featuring in from local newsletters to community events to the local media
- the campaign should be ‘intergenerational’; involving young and old alike
- traditional campaigning methods (such as public meetings, letter writing, petitions etc.) have their place, but are not likely to grab attention or stimulate much interest. We must be creative and innovative
- everyone (both the suits and the grassroots) have a role to play in confronting this issue, and we must work together.
- The community has a huge role to play; not least by promoting neighbourliness and ‘a sense of community’
I am continually learning more about Cornwall – its population is passionate and committed people. They have a strong, active voluntary and community sector alongside a strong sense of place.
But it also has severe rural isolation, hidden inequalities and a rapidly ageing population. The Cornwall Health and Wellbeing Board are setting its priorities now and we need loneliness in older age to be part of the conversation.
So I throw it open to you. Taking account of all said above, how do you think we can best engage the Cornish community on the issue of loneliness? And how in turn, do we get the decision makers to listen to their voices? Answers on a postcard (or in a comment box below) please!
Marianne Symons is the new Campaigns Officer for the Campaign to End Loneliness. For more information about getting involved with our campaigns in Essex or Cornwall, you can contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7012 1409.