With the clout of more than 280 organisations behind it, a new campaign is launching to provide practical solutions to Harrogate’s hidden epidemic of loneliness.
Looking Out For Our Neighbours is designed to champion and promote the impact that just simple heartfelt gestures can have in our communities - spreading joy to those around us, and stamping out isolation in the process.
It’s a campaign that’s being launched by the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership, with the backing of dozens of high profile supporters, including Harrogate Town AFC and the Jo Cox Foundation.
It’s hoped that Harrogate residents, as well as those in Bradford, Craven, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield, will be inspired to reach out to neighbours who live alone or might need help - doing anything from picking up some shopping, to just taking the time to say hello.
Harrogate charity Supporting Older People (SOP) has voiced their support for the campaign, recognising that some elderly residents in our town can go for days without seeing or speaking to anyone.
SOP’s director Kate Rogata, said: “If people can take the time to get to know a neighbour, it can make all the difference in the world to their quality of life and give them a sense of belonging and purpose.
“My neighbour recently cut her finger badly, but because my husband and I check on her regularly, she knew I was there to help her. We also give her practical support like taking her rubbish and recycling out, or getting shopping for her in bad weather. She feels more confident, knowing someone is there and it is a real friendship.
“I think people are so busy these days and wrapped up in their own and their family’s lives that it’s very easy to overlook older neighbours. I think also people are nervous about knocking on a stranger’s door in case they’re accused of being up to no good. We need to be able to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes to appreciate how pleased we would be receive a kind word or gesture.”
Supporting Older People has been established in the town for 37 years, providing services and activities including home visits, telephone befriending, lunch clubs, social outings and a singing group.
Kate said just taking a step back from the busyness of day-to-day can prevent us from missing signs of loneliness or ill health amongst our neighbours.
She said: ”Older people can go days without seeing anyone, particularly if they live in a cul-de-sac or flats, and people don’t pass. If you wave to someone every day and then don’t see them, it could be a sign that they’re not well and you can alert family or emergency services. The ill- effects of loneliness are very well known, friendships make us feel valued.”
According to research from The Health Foundation (December 2018), social isolation can increase the risk of having a stroke by a third, and older people who live alone are 50 per cent more likely to visit A&E than those who live with others.
Findings published in Age UK’s report, All the lonely people: Loneliness amongst older people (2018) show that the number of older people who are lonely is rapidly rising, and could become a major public health concern if loneliness is not addressed, as it can seriously affect people’s health and wellbeing.
Pivotal to the success of the Looking Out for Our Neighbours campaign will be the distribution of more than 30,000 information packs across Harrogate and West Yorkshire - including a wealth of resources to encourage residents to take charge and be proactive in alleviating loneliness in our communities.
In August 2018, the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership allocated £1 million towards supporting voluntary and community organisations in tackling loneliness. Further funding from the partnership’s Urgent and Emergency Programme Board will support this campaign.
Rob Webster, the CEO Lead for the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership and CEO for South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said: “People of all ages can feel alone for a variety of reasons - following bereavement, a change in relationship or becoming unemployed, for example.
“This important campaign is a helpful reminder that it’s often the smallest acts of kindness that make the biggest difference to a person’s life. As neighbours, we could all look out for each other a bit more and local organisations can also help bring people together in shared activities.”
Each of the 280 organisations backing the campaign has pledged to do something to help end loneliness. Harrogate Town AFC already runs a raft of activities through its community foundation to bring people together from across all age groups - including walking football, and hosting sporting memories sessions.
The club is passionate about doing even more by getting behind the Looking Out For Our Neighbours campaign.
Their Community Development Manager, Iain Service, said: “We work hard to make links and connections with our neighbours at Harrogate Town AFC. This work is extended throughout our community programmes that recognise the importance of reducing loneliness and improving resident’s quality of life.
“The Looking Out For Our Neighbours campaign is hugely important to Harrogate because we all have a duty to work together to create a better life for each other. We hope that by raising awareness we can contribute towards making a positive impact on the wellbeing of neighbours, and record a marked increase in partners working together.”
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The campaign has attracted a wide cross section of supporters, ranging from the emergency services and the likes of North Yorkshire Police, to the Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust, the Harrogate Easier Living Project, Chain Lane Community Hub in Knaresborough, and the Harrogate and Ripon Centres for Voluntary Service.
The Harrogate Easier Living Project (HELP), which helps older people to live independently, has praised the campaign for its ambition to get our district thinking more about looking out for neighbours.
Lizzie Hughes, who is a project development worker for the charity, said: “We are very pleased to see this new campaign being launched in our District. Anything that supports local social action and neighbourliness can only be a positive thing for the community.
“In order to tackle the growing issue of chronic loneliness and its associated health risks, charities, community groups and individuals all need to work together. HELP has always advocated that the simple act of introducing yourself to your neighbour is the first step in making a real difference to isolated people in our community.”
How you can support new campaign
As well as the distribution of more than 30,000 information packs, readers can also find out more about the campaign by visiting a dedicated website: ourneighbours.org.uk, where individuals, businesses and community groups can get in touch to pledge their support.