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Community connectors tackling loneliness in lockdown

Our partnership with the British Red Cross has seen physical activity added to their support for lonely older adults.

17th June 2020

Lockdown loneliness in older adults is being tackled via a community engagement scheme from the British Red Cross.

We’ve been developing a partnership with the humanitarian charity over the past year, aiming to help older people stay fit, active and connected.

And since March we’ve been assisting the charity’s ‘community connectors’ to support over-55s across the country to stay connected through exercise, virtual meetings and activities that boost wellbeing.

A British Red Cross volunteer on the phone.

New research published during Loneliness Awareness Week shows the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown has made the UK lonelier, with 33% of adults saying they haven’t had a meaningful conversation in the last week.

And with the same number of people also fearing their loneliness will get worse, the British Red Cross has been helping people at risk of being isolated, to stay connected.

“Lockdown means many of us are feeling lonelier than we did before coronavirus,” said the charity’s executive director Zoe Abrams.

“Sport and physical activity can reduce loneliness, creating links between people who may have otherwise not met.

“Whilst social distancing means that we may not be able to take part in these activities in the same way as before, we can still stay fit and be social in other ways.

“Connected communities are more resilient communities, and during this pandemic our volunteers are working hard to help older people stay connected both now and into the future.”

On calls to older people, the community connectors have been sharing tips on how to stay active at home, including seated exercises and sofa and pillow workouts.

They’ve also been highlighting online resources such as The Body Coach’s YouTube Channel, as well as NHS home workouts and the 10 Today radio exercise programmes.

There have also been afternoon teas sessions via Zoom and a 5,000-step challenge using pedometers to monitor people’s daily step counts – while for those without an internet connection, Red Cross staff and volunteers have been dropping off printed advice leaflets.

Connected communities are more resilient communities, and during this pandemic our volunteers are working hard to help older people stay connected both now and into the future

Zoe Abrams

Executive director, British Red Cross

Community connectors were already active across the country ahead of March, but since then we’ve worked with the British Red Cross to include activity into their support package.

With our support, the charity is rapidly testing the scheme in six sites over nine months, before looking to grow the project to another six locations in the next nine months.

“Sport and physical activity is well placed to enrich the lives of people who feel lonely or socially isolated,” said Mike Diaper, our executive director for children, young people and tackling inactivity.

“Most people are spending far more time at home, and many on their own, so keeping active is even more important. Our research shows that when we are more active, we’re less likely to feel lonely. 

“Sport plays a crucial role in bringing people together to build relationships and give people a sense of belonging. With the opportunities to be active severely disrupted and some people feeling anxious about going outside to be active, we've been focusing on providing different ways for people to be active at home.

“I am delighted that our partnership with the British Red Cross is helping older people stay connected and helping enhance the quality of their lives by staying fit and active.”

The current physical activity provision is available in Blackpool, Blyth, Camborne and Redruth, Oldham, Newcastle and Southampton, with more than 1,000 people estimated to be supported over the next year.

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