Camden’s new Health and Wellbeing Strategy identifies community connectedness and friendships as a strategic priority. In this blog post, Hub member Angela Malik, Policy and Project Officer at Camden Council, explains how they are on a journey to discover the best ways to tackle loneliness and social isolation in the borough.
Shared objectives in addressing loneliness
In Camden we’re on a journey to discover the best ways to tackle loneliness and social isolation despite a backdrop of Covid recovery, prolonged reductions in council funding, and a cost-of-living crisis. Fortunately, we’re not going it alone and are pursuing shared objectives with a vibrant network of partners and community groups.
In recent years, our local Health and Wellbeing Board (a forum of local health system leaders) has sponsored a range of activities to ensure that residents’ voice is at the heart of health and care. A common theme emerged: that many health and social challenges in our neighbourhoods either stem from, or relate to, peoples’ experiences of loneliness and social isolation. This is often coupled with the view people feel a greater sense of wellbeing when connected to their communities.
Camden’s new Health and Wellbeing Strategy
These conversations underpin Camden’s new Health and Wellbeing Strategy (2022-30) which promotes a population health approach and draws attention to the social determinants to health. It identifies three ‘short-term’ priorities to deliver change on over the next few years, one of which is community connectedness and friendships. This priority acknowledges loneliness as a significant driver of poor health outcomes in Camden and calls for a united response. Fortunately, the Council heard our call and included a mission-oriented challenge in its new vision for the borough – that ‘no one in Camden is socially isolated and without the means to connect to their community’.
We began by researching the amazing work already happening through our rich voluntary and community sector. We reached out and are hugely grateful for the time that people took to talk to us. It was clear that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach for tackling loneliness and that different people require different solutions. Sometimes people experiencing social isolation require time and some gentle perseverance, while others need more practical barriers removed, such as access to walking aids through the NHS. We have learned so much already.
Our conversations culminated with a workshop to bring lots of different partners together. It included council officers from housing and social care teams, as well as social prescribers, care navigators, GPs, voluntary sector and NHS workers. Camden’s Public Health team produced a local needs assessment which gave everyone a shared understanding of the issues and launchpad for the discussion. Then in small groups we discussed whether existing local activity was addressing the full range of local challenges. From here we started to identify potential gaps and opportunities that are ripe for intervention and mobilisation.
The workshop inspired a range of ideas, some big – requiring systemic change – and some small and immediately actionable. One quick win was to connect frontline council staff to the rich knowledge developed through the Ageing Better Camden programme, which drew on the existing skills and talents in the community to engage with older people and help tackle social isolation. A resulting training offer was established booked out in just a few days! They offer training across the country, so please do reach out to them if that is something you’re interested in.
Looking ahead and improving visibility of the loneliness strategy
A working group has now been set up to drive the work forward and improve visibility for this local priority. Membership will be multi-team and multi-organisational, and it will need to work in close collaboration with residents and those experiencing loneliness and social isolation. We’re very much at the beginning of our journey recognise the complexity of the issues. However, by working in partnership and exploring all drivers of health, we’re confident we can rise to the challenge.