Loneliness service is blueprint for social prescribing says Co-op and British Red Cross

27 May 2019

A successful community service that has supported more than 9,000 people experiencing loneliness and isolation was today (27 May) held up as a blueprint for the Government’s flagship social prescribing scheme.

During the past three years the Co-op and British Red Cross have organised a Community Connectors scheme in almost 40 UK locations throughout the UK.

A report on the results of the service, which mobilised more than 400 volunteers, shows that nearly 70 per cent of those attending the intensive one-to-one service showed lower levels of loneliness after using the service with more than three quarters also displaying improved general wellbeing.

Now the British Red Cross and the Co-op, that have been working in partnership to tackle loneliness since 2015, have made 10 recommendations to guide health professions when patients seek help for loneliness.

The recommendations include: doing more to better understand and identify when people are lonely; offering greater support to providers of social prescribing services and activities; reaching out to and involving communities in different ways to tackle loneliness.

The Government is committed to providing social prescribing - referring patients to services that offer non-clinical support and activities - and aims to help deal with loneliness as well as other issues such as anxiety, obesity and smoking. The Government will provide 1,000 link workers to support social prescribing in England in 2020 and 2021, with the initiative extended further by 2023/24.

Paul Gerrard, of the Co-op, said: “The results set out in our report show that the Connecting Communities service has had a dramatic impact on loneliness and a positive impact on people’s general wellbeing.

“It is cost-effective as the social return on investment works out at more than double the amount invested.

Zoe Abrams, Executive Director of Communications and Advocacy at the British Red Cross and co-chair of the Loneliness Action Group, said: “Social prescribing is at its best when it looks closely at an individual's needs, hopes and goals. In this way, it helps reconnect people back into their communities, which our research shows is critical to effectively tackling loneliness.

“As the British Red Cross, we see on a daily basis the power of human connection to help rebuild lives in the face of challenges, including loneliness. Establishing meaningful relationships is vital to building the resilience and independence of individuals. We urge all those who commission services to take on board the recommendations of our report and help ensure that social prescribing achieves its potential to become a powerful force to reduce loneliness.”

“We therefore believe that this is a blueprint that can now be rolled out by other commissioners and we would urge the Government to encourage the adoption of this proven approach.”