Supporting a more connected society
What does the new government strategy mean for GoodGym?
October 17, 2018
On the 15th of October the government published it's first ever strategy on the prevention of loneliness. GoodGym's founder Ivo Gormley wrote this overview of the strategy and its implications for our our work.
The strategy recognises that loneliness can affect anyone, and takes a cross-departmental look at how government can support a reduction in loneliness in England. The strategy comes at a time in which recent studies in the UK and the US have shown that it is actually younger people that are most likely to suffer from loneliness. As I have written and said before, GoodGym definitely reflects this; we have never been a project that provides a service to a community of lonely people, but a platform that allows people to connect, whoever they are. Reflecting the recent studies - GoodGym runners, many of whom fall into the 18-24 bracket, have started to be increasingly open about the well-being effects of GoodGym, including those on loneliness. Our plans to make involvement easier and lower barriers to entry will help to make the loneliness-prevention aspect of our work more impactful for those who come to GoodGym as runners. It's exciting the the strategy validates and reflects these findings.
Overall, the strategy is a helpful reminder of the facts of loneliness and a useful review of how government departments can make an impact: below I've written a few notes on some parts of the strategy that will have implications for our work.
Social prescribing is the main way in which the strategy seeks to increase the effectiveness of the voluntary groups and charities. Social prescribing, is when referral routes usually used for health-based referrals are extended to social ones; a doctor could for instance prescribe parkrun to someone who has diabetes. The strategy aims to expand the number of social prescribing connector schemes in order to increase the amount of referrals that are made and this is broadly something we support - we already have referrals of both runners and older people through social referring. Our new plan for work with older people will be to work more in depth with partner organisations to ensure that all runner availability is used. The government plan mentions the British Red Cross Connecting Communities scheme amongst other organisations that use link workers to provide the connections between individuals and service, groups and people that could make them less lonely. We will aim to form more connections with these organisations and to see if they could become delivery partners.
Rapid changes in society:
The strategy mentions significant changes in our lives that make loneliness more likely; our transience, the rise of shift work, our increasing reliance on technology. It also states that it will work with these forces rather than against them. In my view, these changes are largely out of choice, we value the freedom to move away from parents and grand-parents, and to settle in new cities and have the opportunity to make new friends. In order to adjust to make this new reality work for all of us, we need to find ways of recreating ties that would have given young people regular connection and advise from an older generation and given older people regular integration with the energy of younger people and, when they need it, practical support. This is what we are aiming to do with GoodGym in creating easy to access, exciting experiences that fit with our busy lives and can be done whether you're in Newcastle or Portsmouth, and whether you have an hour to spare on just one evening in a city you are visiting to if you can make a regular commitment. We will continue to aim to make involvement in GoodGym easy for those who have moved to a new city or who have had a change in circumstances.
Removing stigma and creating a national conversation
From what we are seeing in the GoodGym community and outside it there is a huge shift in the social norms around well-being that is enabling much more open diaglogue. GoodGym runners have written many times about mental health and about how GoodGym has supported it. It is good to see that the government will support this and continue the good work that has happened in mental health continues to progress and includes loneliness for people of all ages.
New mesaures for loneliness:
The strategy, on the advice of the Office for National Statistics, advocates a move to using four questions to measure loneliness which are used in the UK and other countries. We currently use the Warwick-Edinburgh Well-being Score which looks more broadly at mental well-being. The questions they suggest are the following:
"A single, direct question of ‘How often do you feel lonely?’, and three questions known as the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) 3-item scale for adults: ‘How often do you feel that you lack companionship? How often do you feel left out? How often do you feel isolated from others?’. These are established indicators that are already in use in the UK and more widely, and will help to build most effectively on what we currently know."
The questions are short and to the point, and we will seek to integrate them into our evaluation which will be updated within the next two years.
In the consultation that fed into the strategy, many people who were experiencing loneliness wanted a better way to find out what was available near them; creating an online database was suggested as a solution. The Strategy states that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, in collaboration with the LGA, digital experts, local authorities, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the voluntary sector, will "launch pilots to explore how better use of data can help make it easier for people to find local activities, services and support. " Often the issue with these types of service is maintenance of the database; services disappear and appear and change their criteria often, it's also difficult to know if a service really is right for you often when all you see is a few lines of text and a location. The strategy cites OpenActive, an open programming interface and data standard that allows information to be shared in real time between service providers and aggregators to ensure that information is always up to date. GoodGym publishes data to OpenActive and we would like to see an equivalent in the social prescribing space that would enable anyone to get up-to-date and accurate information about groups, services and places that can help us be more connected.