30 August 2016

Tackling Loneliness: Interim Findings From Worchestershire Indicate a Positive Impact

A guest post from Lisi Bouchard, an Associate at Social Finance. She works on the development and delivery of services in a range of social impact areas.

We have been delighted by the early findings from the evaluation of Reconnections, a service we launched in 2015 to tackle loneliness in Worcestershire.

The report by PSRRU has found that the Reconnections service has had a positive impact on individuals’ social interactions, with people indicating that they are getting out and about more, attending activities in their local community, beginning to volunteer, regaining the confidence to drive or just leaving the house again.

“I was getting fed up and depressed about sitting on my own all the time and[volunteer’s name removed]came along and suggested doing this and that – so that’s what I have been doing. It’s made a lot of difference to me.”

Such improvements can have a huge impact on feelings of loneliness and general wellbeing. Furthermore, the report indicates that the programme has also had a positive impact on physical health and wellbeing, and in one case has helped an individual in managing bereavement and chronic pain.

“I do mega-mover here which I never used to do and my confidence, you know, it’s right up there. It was down here and it’s up there now.”

It is still early days for the Reconnections service, and although there have been challenges surrounding finding people who are lonely and measuring loneliness, we have to date worked with more than 370 people across Worcestershire.

We have learnt a lot from the delivery of our service, and one surprising aspect has been the level and degree of loneliness experienced by some people. This has added to our conviction of the importance of this project and work to tackle loneliness. The evaluation highlights some of the key areas of challenge on which to focus for the next year, such as the importance of transport to be able to access activities and the importance of having enough volunteers.

Reducing loneliness can save £6,000 over 10 years

Importantly, the report also includes a look at the economic benefits of reducing loneliness and estimates the costs avoided for the NHS, local authorities and families if it is averted.

From fewer visits to the GP or hospital, lower rates of depression and coronary heart disease ,the estimated cost that can be avoided if actions are targeted at the most lonely is £6,000 per person over ten years. This finding builds on our original Social Finance cost benefit analysis of the potential benefits of tackling loneliness, providing key evidence for commissioners on the benefits of investing in programmes to reduce loneliness.

We are heartened to see these early indicators of positive impact. Although there is a long way to go in this field, we are delighted to be making steps toward creating a society where chronic loneliness and isolation are reduced.

Social Finance, in partnership with Age UK Herefordshire and Worcestershire, set up the Reconnections service in 2015 to help 3,000 older people across Worcestershire. It is the country’s first Social Impact Bond to focus on loneliness. The project aims to add to best practice on what works to reduce loneliness and to better understand the impact of a programme to tackle loneliness on individuals’ loneliness and their use of health and social care services. The initial development work, the dissemination of learning and the evaluation is supported by Nesta Centre for Social Action Innovation Fund and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch).

For more information please see the Social Finance website where we have published a number of briefing papers to share our thinking to date http://www.socialfinance.org.uk/introduction-to-the-reconnections-social-impact-bond/; and the Reconnections websitehttp://www.reconnectionsservice.org.uk/