This week (17–21 June) is Loneliness Week, and we want to talk about the difference it can make to reach out, take that first step, and try something new.
Measuring the impact of our projects on people and communities is really important to us.
We have seen consistent evidence from our qualitative evaluations and case studies that participants become more connected, and less isolated, through their engagement with our programmes.
Some of these programmes have focused on groups of people with specific barriers that leave them at risk of isolation and loneliness (such as dementia sufferers, ex-offenders, people with disabilities).
Other projects take a more universal approach – bringing people together from all walks of life, but explicitly considering how they might reach out to those with additional barriers – because we know that loneliness can strike anyone, at any at any time of life.
We are now looking to address loneliness in a more consistent way: we’re working with the What Works Centre for Wellbeing to use the agreed measurements for focussing on loneliness – especially for younger people – and we’ve learned a lot from the people we’ve met along the way: those who’ve run our programmes, and those who’ve participated in them.
Here are some of their stories...
Day One: Dean Boyd
Dean moved to Belfast at the age of seven with his mother, and grew up in the city.
His mother took her own life when Dean was a teenager, after which his stepfather moved away, leaving Dean with no family and no support in a city he didn’t know well. Dean lived in homeless hostels for a number of months, developing a dependency on drugs and alcohol as a way of managing his situation.
He didn’t feel that he belonged anywhere, and moved around Northern Ireland without settling or forming relationships that could help him.
Dean returned to the city centre in Belfast to look for support, knowing he needed help. He managed to enrol himself for drug and alcohol treatment, as well as bereavement counselling.
He found out about Reading Rooms through his drug and alcohol counsellor, who thought it would help with rebuilding Dean’s confidence, which in turn would help him better manage his anxiety, which had become pronounced.
Reading Rooms is a literary project run by Verbal Arts and funded in part by Spirit of 2012. It meets weekly and offers a safe, facilitated space to young people coming out of the criminal justice system to discuss and share reflections on carefully selected written pieces.
Reading Rooms connected Dean with other young people who had the same experiences and interests as him, as well as reconnecting him with literature, which he had always loved.
From that foundation he enrolled for courses in health studies and to study for his GCSEs. He wants to study psychology at university and become a psychologist.
Day Two: David
The Emerge programme, which is delivered by The Mighty Creatives, provides arts opportunities to secondary-school aged children in deprived areas of the Midlands.
Students develop their own arts festivals for the public, based on the works of Shakespeare and timed to coincide with his birthday in April.
All the content is designed, performed and produced by secondary school pupils, who work with artist practitioners in their schools to develop creative interpretations of Shakespeare’s works.
The young artist leading the work for the Mansfield festival explained the impact it had had on one of his participants: “David was the very first person I ever met through Emerge back in October 2017. David suffers from a complicated medical condition, something that means he cannot be educated at a secondary school and so for most of his life he has been home schooled.
"David had no friends, no one of his own age to talk with, laugh with, someone who he could just be himself around. He was surrounded by adults most of the time and came to Emerge looking to make friends.
"It’s hard to underestimate how important feeling normal is, feeling accepted and that you belong somewhere. When David joined the Emerge programme, he fitted right in – the students accepted him without judgment or bias, as only young people can do.
"The session became the most important two hours of his week and it was clear the impact of seeing him interact with students his own age was having on his mum. The friendship he started with that person from the drama group continued through the festival and beyond.
"I know that they now regularly visit each other's homes and go out together to events. The success of a festival can be measured many ways, but I measure the success of mine by this.
"David now has a friend, and while that may seem small to most people, to him it has fundamentally changed the quality of his life.”
Day Three: Morris and Stephen
GOGA Peer Support is run by Disability Rights UK, who train active disabled people to become mentors to work one-to-one with another disabled person to support them to become active. During 2018 Morris was a mentor to Stephen Wells.
Morris experienced a breakdown a few years ago following the loss of his job. He felt he had lost his identity and under the pressure of supporting his family, he really struggled to re-build his confidence. He has since made a remarkable recovery and used volunteering as a way to build his self-esteem and fulfil his love of supporting others, volunteering in several different roles.
Morris and Stephen started working together in June 2017 by taking up yoga – an activity new to both of them. They both became more physically active, and tried other new activities like walking and aerobics. Both reported increases in their confidence and mental wellbeing. Morris progressed to the role of Mentor Co-Ordinator helping Disability Rights UK to run the Peer Support Programme in Lambeth with local organisation Disability Advice Service Lambeth. He helped with outreach, office admin and shared his story and experiences of mentoring with other newly trained mentors.
Stephen has a history of depression and mental health problems and before working with Morris he struggled to even get out of the house.
“I felt low, I lacked motivation to do things and didn’t think physical activity could help. I knew I wanted to get active but it seemed so hard to take the first step, at times it felt hopeless. Joining GOGA and working with Morris has actually changed my life.
"He was there alongside me when I took my first step into yoga and slowly he helped me to set small goals, motivating me at each step. I now go to classes six times a week! I even help Morris with his football club at the weekends trying even more new things. I’m pushed in a good way to do activities, I don’t want to let Morris or myself down.
"We have started setting extra goals recently, like doing push-ups every day and knee exercises. I’m trying to change my habits such as not comfort eating late at night – it’s hard to break this. I feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel to get fit (and remove my belly!).
Day Four: Sally
Sally lives in a rural village in north Norfolk, and heard about the Our Day Out programme we run for older people, many of them with dementia, which is delivered by Creative Arts East (CAE).
She contacted CAE about coming along to the Wells-next-the-Sea group – before attending, she was anxious to let the group know about her ongoing shoulder pain, and arrived quite nervously with her walking stick, obviously feeling a bit uncertain about joining in with the workshop (who were doing a form of dancing at the time).
From a young age, Sally had no feeling on one side of her body, and this gradually affected her mobility, together with the common stiffness and pain accompanying older age.
This altered her perception and confidence in what she was and wasn’t able to do, and she felt that people around her dictated her abilities.
She had always wanted to try dance classes when she was younger, but never had the opportunity, nor felt she would be able to try given her limited mobility.
Sally says: “Life seemed to be closing in until I found Our Day Out. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and would miss it terribly. I love the sessions, I’m breaking out. I feel like I’m just dipping my toes in and the water is beautifully warm.”
“I did feel that life was shutting me in the house, I have very few friends left who don’t come to see me much, but it’s really nice to meet people who have the same interests because we like coming to share in music and dance.”
“I think I’ve gained confidence from attending the sessions. I can join in now without feeling embarrassed.”
“Much to my surprise, my favourite activity is the drumming and music making. It’s really nice to do it with everybody else and be part of a little, rather unique, music making group.”
“To do new things is like new life and has given me much more to look forward to and have made my life seem to be lighter. To move is a freedom that I’ve only just started to feel, and I really enjoy it. It makes me feel more free and less inhibited.”
From their most recent data, Creative Arts East know that 97% of people on the programme have met new people and created new social connections; 93% have had a shared positive experience; 80% have engaged with the arts and 81% felt better about themselves as a result in taking part in Our Day Out.
Day Five: My Pockets
The My Pockets Music Project supports disadvantaged young people in Hull and East Riding to create, record and perform songs about their own lives and experience.
The project takes the form of weekly workshops across a range of groups and locations, targeting young people who suffer from mental health problems.
Recently, they have been working with a group of 11-to-15-year-olds who have all been bereaved of a parent. The group have been playing music and having fun, letting off steam and making a racket. When they came to write and record a full song, they decided to address their experiences of losing their mum or dad.
They have written a wonderful song that explores the grief they feel, but also has a very uplifting chorus about their defiance and resilience in the face of the sadness they have experienced.
One participant said: “It stops me from being bored and thinking about things, and it helps me to make friends, because I don’t really have friends or talk to people. It usually takes me about a year to get to know somebody before I can tell them about stuff in my life, but here I can talk to people. A lot of the people at school aren’t very nice, whereas here they are, and the leaders make it fun as well, so I’m learning.”
Peter Snelling, the director of My Pockets said: “We have seen first-hand the remarkable impact that making music has on the wellbeing of young people. The support of Spirit means we can develop, extend and better understand this work – prepare your ears!”