The Royal Borough of Greenwich had received funding through the Better Care Fund, a central government fund that seeks to transform health and social care through integrated joined up working between local government and the NHS. Levels of isolation were high in Greenwich – as they tend to be in more deprived boroughs – with half of older people living alone, and particular problems around men’s loneliness. Recent publicity drives at a national level, such as the Campaign to End Loneliness, had raised awareness of the issue. But the council wanted to find a brand new and creative way of tackling it at a local level.
How we approached it
The project, by definition, required us to speak to those who were hardest to reach – people who were isolated and vulnerable. We focused on five groups who tended to be especially vulnerable to loneliness: over-65s, carers, those living alone, middle-aged single men and the recently bereaved. And we worked in Thamesmead, Eltham and Charlton, three parts of the borough where these demographics were especially prevalent. Our previous experience working with older people, along with a lengthy phase of desk research, allowed us to fine-tune our methods and phrase questions in the right way.
By mapping values, and by looking at the different forms loneliness took within the five demographic groups, we were able to create a model for Greenwich Council which differentiated between the lonely, the isolated, the solitary and the inactive. These groupings were distinctive, differentiating those who were unwilling to make social contact and those who were unable, and between those who were aware of their isolation and those who were not. This helped Greenwich Borough to develop a set of strategies which were much more targeted, making the key distinction between those who needed logistical help and those who needed more emotional interventions.