Half a million older people don’t see or speak to anyone for five days a week, according to Age UK, while for almost four million of them, it’s the television – rather than friends or family – that keeps them company. But it isn’t just the elderly who are affected by loneliness. The Co-op and the British Red Cross have found that more than nine million people in the UK “often or always” feel lonely and disconnected. “Most of us experience loneliness at some point,” says Andy Nazer of the charity Campaign to End Loneliness. “The feeling is usually transient, but there are a growing number of people who face it all the time.”
Rural isolation can be especially difficult. Once, village life revolved around the pub, shop, church and post office, but so many of these have now closed. According to The Prince’s Countryside Fund, seven out of 10 villages in England no longer have a shop, while figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that almost one in four pubs has shut since 2008.
The loss of ordinary social activities also makes us feel isolated, says Claire Saunders of The Prince’s Countryside Fund. “Some people who have lived in villages for many years say they now feel lonelier than ever, as services have centralised and moved online, while shops and pubs have closed. They have told us how important it was to have a chat over the counter or a pint in the pub.”
Transport cuts have hit rural communities hard, too. A 2018 report by Campaign for Better Transport revealed that rural public transport was “in crisis”, with bus cuts leaving communities isolated. “It’s not just older people without cars who are affected,” says Graham Biggs of Rural Services Network. “Many children find themselves beyond walking distance to clubs and friends.”
Poor internet connection can also leave people feeling cut off as rural broadband speeds can often be slower than urban ones. Even phone calls can be difficult – in a third of rural buildings, it’s impossible to make a mobile call on a major network, according to The Prince’s Countryside Fund.
From bereavement and retirement to having a baby and getting divorced, there are so many reasons behind loneliness, but there are ways in which we can all help.
Where can you go for help if you’re lonely?
The magazine Country Living recently listed these helpful points of contact:
- Age UK combats loneliness among older people through its Befriending Service. You can become a volunteer befriender at any age – more info.
- MeetUpMondays provides advice for pubs and cafés wanting to hold free weekly coffee mornings – more info.
- Natural Voice Network helps you find a choir near you (no expertise necessary) – more info.
- Plunkett Foundation supports communities looking to run their local pub or considering whether it could double as a grocery store, say, or post office – more info.
- The Prince’s Countryside Fund offers funding to community groups. Its Village Survival Guideoffers advice – more info.
If You feel lonely, pick up the phone. You will be helping yourself and possibly others who live near to you.