I remember my first day at college many years ago, feigning smiles as I met people for the first time and feeling a deep emptiness inside.
I’ll admit that I felt lonely. You could say it was a passing feeling, I soon had friends and that it didn’t have a long-term effect. But I felt it and I remember it too.
Imagine having that feeling day after day; being lonely, isolated and knowing it’s likely to stay that way. This is happening to a million people, aged over 65, up and down the country.
Loneliness and social isolation issues are difficult to identify, complex to address and hard to resolve.
Loneliness is bad for the people affected but it’s also bad for their local communities because those people aren’t always playing an active part and contributing to community life in the way they would like.
There are things that commissioners can do to address this, at a time when the issue is high up on the political agenda with the appointment of a loneliness minister in Tracey Crouch. A range of approaches are needed to suit people with different needs and preferences, and also, crucially, this all needs to be addressed locally.
This is central to the briefing for council commissioners we recently published, looking at the evidence and emerging good practice but also some of the understandable challenges that commissioners face and what can be done about them.
Commissioners can overcome barriers, identifying and building on good local schemes, helping people to make connections that play to their strengths and interests and by co-producing services with residents. Commissioners can make it clearer and easier for smaller organisations to respond to commissioning tenders. Can response times and tender requirements be proportionate to an organisation’s size and capacity?
You can feel lonely in a crowded room and I certainly did on that first day in college. As the issue of loneliness and isolation is being focused on by both national and local government, let’s hope the figure of one million lonely people starts reducing dramatically in the years ahead.
Tony Hunter, chief executive, Social Care Institute for Excellence