Agenda item

Rotherham Loneliness Action Plan 2020-2022

Ruth Fletcher-Brown and Terri Roche from Public Health to present.


The Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Housing introduced the draft Rotherham Loneliness Plan 2020-22, which was important given the strong negative impact that loneliness could have on people’s mental and physical health.  Loneliness is a priority within the Health and Wellbeing Board Strategy (Aim 4) and the plan was a key aspect of the Health and Wellbeing Board’s agenda on the preventative side.  There was also an important role for ward members in this work.


It was essential to recognise the difference between loneliness and isolation and also to be aware that loneliness could affect people of any age; it was not confined to older people.  The causes of loneliness were difficult to determine but known trigger factors could be seen at an individual, community and societal level.  In order to tackle loneliness and promote good social connections a collective response was required from individuals, communities, statutory partners, voluntary and community sector and local businesses.  Actions to tackle loneliness could be very simple and in many cases low cost, building on local assets.


The overall vision in the plan stated: “People of all ages in Rotherham feel more connected to others and loneliness is reduced”.  Underpinning this vision, a high level action plan had been developed, informed by a stakeholder event, focus groups and needs analysis work.  It was based on four broad aims, as follows:


1.     To make loneliness everyone’s responsibility.

2.     Improving how organisations and services in Rotherham connect people
at risk of experiencing loneliness to support.

3.     Make it easier for people living and working in Rotherham to access information about local community groups, activities and support services for loneliness.

4.     Spread good practice and encourage knowledge sharing on tackling loneliness across Rotherham.


Members recognised the difficulties in detecting loneliness and that it was hard for people to admit to feeling lonely.  They welcomed having a good plan in place and asked whether it was likely to be further developed and refined over time.  This was confirmed as the evidence base was still emerging so any local initiatives would to be thoroughly evaluated and reported on, taking the learning and building from that.


Raising awareness with partners of what was already happening in communities, such as the coffee mornings organised by Churches Together was highlighted.  Officers were mindful that a lot of good practice was happening and were attempting to bring everything together in one directory by encouraging people to include activities in GISMO the on-line database hosted by Voluntary Action Rotherham.  The Making Every Contact Count initiative would play a key part in identifying loneliness through staff sensitively asking questions and spotting triggers such as life events. 


As GISMO was central to informing people about activities and groups, assurance was sought in relation to funding to maintain and update the information.  The CCG had provided funding to update it but there was uncertainty regarding funding for the next few years, although it was hoped to access South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw funding for the “connectedness” workstream.


A question was asked about the research citations in relation to loneliness being more harmful than smoking 15 cigarettes a day and for loneliness as a factor in higher demand on public services.  Some of this had emerged from conversations with front line staff and partners, health data and also some pieces of national research, for example that of the Jo Cox Foundation who continued to work on this topic.  In terms of commissioning further research, this would be likely nationally but given the tightness of resources it would be more a case of using local assets in Rotherham.  More could be done and the findings from the focus groups with tenants, older people and young people had been helpful as groups could often identify a simple solution.  For example, raising having a trusted adult to talk to for young people.  Members added that if this harm could be proved empirically a case could be made for shifting resources, including into preventative work.  There was a reliance on the voluntary and community sector as well with costs involved in ensuring a body of volunteers could be trained and retained, which might merit dialogue with Voluntary Action Rotherham about their plans for volunteers.  Officers reiterated the need for individual and collective responsibility across agencies and that much could be done at low or no cost.


The value of social prescribing through GPs was acknowledged and potentially could assist with some of the people going to health services with more of a social than a medical need, but again this linked back to people being able to get a GP appointment.  Work was taking place with the Primary Care Networks’ Link Workers who did the signposting but they were still fairly new in post.  Existing social prescribing was available only for two specific routes, mental health and long term conditions, but the hope was to expand this more widely by working with the Link Workers.  Rotherham was already well ahead in this field through the work introduced by Voluntary Action Rotherham which pre-dated the national requirements. 


8 out of 10 carers had reported feeling lonely and Members sought verification that the Loneliness Plan would link in with the Carers Strategy.  Cllr Roche confirmed that it would do and admitted that the Carers Strategy had been delayed whilst the new Target Operating Model had been developed and implemented in Adult Care.  An officer had now been appointed to develop the strategy which was an essential piece of work as being a carer could be very lonely, especially if the person they supported had complex needs and required a lot of hours of care.


In relation to concerns with the move towards digital by default a query was raised about the potential to use some of the associated savings to establish relationships that may be lost through the move to greater use of technology.  Conversely the positive benefits of technology in helping to address needs and loneliness were raised, including robotic cats that had been positive for people with dementia and enabling the development of on-line communities that enabled people to make connections around the world.


As the plan was a more strategic high level plan, officers were asked for a follow up once the plan was being implemented to see what was happening as the engagement was a concern.


Members talked about  good initiatives they were involved in to help bring people together such as lunches, day trips and a fishing group but had been less successful with projects for men on their own.  This challenge was recognised although there had been some successes through the small grants scheme under the suicide prevention work which had been running for two years and did include criteria around addressing loneliness and isolation.  A further suggestion was made about trying to bring people together initially through a type of matching process akin to some of the Apps.


Although many of the initiatives discussed involved groups, for some people joining a group could be a difficult step and others might want to find someone to buddy up with instead or alternatively to do something in their own home.  Some individual schemes were in place and had led to real friendships.  A befriending scheme matched volunteers with an older person for an hour a week and were often mutually beneficial.  Work was needed to make others aware of activities the Council offered that were free to attend such as guided walks and in parks.


Given that children and young people experienced loneliness, the Chair asked about work in schools about loneliness; awareness raising with young people, including what to look for and how to be supportive and whether this would be linked to the Trailblazer project.  Rich information had been garnered from the engagement with young people and partners needed to look at where to take this.  This had been raised at the Trailblazer group so would be looked at to see how it filtered down to actions.  It was being addressed in many schools but not necessarily badged as loneliness.


National performance indicators on loneliness were planned for inclusion in the Public Health Outcomes Framework but these measures would not be finalised until November although a number of suggestions were being discussed.


In summary, the feedback from Health Select to be considered to inform the final draft of the plan was:


  • referencing of research sources to be clearer
  • ensure a link to the Carers Strategy (which also links to the respiratory pathway)
  • report back on progress with detailed examples (to link into agreed reporting)
  • better links to schools – including Trailblazer
  • importance of empirical evidence to support funding requests or resource shifts


Officers and the Cabinet Member were thanked for presenting the plan.  If Members had any further thoughts, they were encouraged to submit them by 1 March 2020.  The Chair also confirmed that the Carers Strategy would be included in the work programme for 2020-21.




1)    To note the draft plan and timescales for consultation.


2)    To submit comments on the draft action plan.


3)    To receive the final version after sign off by the Health and Wellbeing Board in March 2020.

Supporting documents: