On 17th October Seachange convened the Budleigh Big Tent in the Budleigh Town Hall. The Big Tent brought together local organisations and key individuals to understand and discuss the issue of social isolation and loneliness. This groundbreaking event drew on the breadth of experience of the participants and their intrinsic local knowledge of our community. The aim of the event was to identify new ways of tackling loneliness and social isolation in our oldest and youngest.
The event was chaired by Marc Jobson, Head of Seachange. It was compared by Chris Cruise, Community Services Manager for the NHS with input from Jeff Chinnock, Royal Devon and Exeter University Foundation Trust Associate Director of Policy and Partnerships. We wanted to frame loneliness as a hard and not a soft topic. We know loneliness has a similar effect on someone’s health as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. It increases self-destructive behaviours such as overeating, excessive alcohol and smoking, it increases stress levels and reduces levels of sleep. All of which significantly impact health and social care costs.
Prior to the event delegates were given a briefing on loneliness in Budleigh which one person called, ‘a revelation’. Most people had assumed that Budleigh was a wealthy, healthy retired community of people with high social connections living in a beautiful town. Whilst this is certainly the case for some it masks the real story. Our local primary school has forty-four children accessing free school meals. Most of those children will no doubt feel isolated from their peers despite the best efforts of the school. A family on universal credit who are unable to engage in local activities such as football doubtlessly feel isolated. High wealth is not a defence against loneliness. A window living alone in large five-bedroom house hundreds of miles from her grandchildren is not protection.
It is clear that the most isolated part of Budleigh is towards the north and East of the town, across the tracks as one individual put it. This was an interesting observation given the ‘tracks’ haven’t been a physical barrier for decades.
Over seventy people attended the forum. Working in groups facilitated by a lead, participants were initially asked what loneliness and social isolation meant to them. Many people drew on their own experiences and insights from their work. Some people only then realised that perhaps they too at some point in their lives had felt lonely: maybe moving house to a new town where they didn’t know anyone or starting a new school. Having reflected on the first question they were asked as individuals ‘what can they do to address the loneliness’ and as a table ‘what could the community do to address it?’.
The event was the first step on a long road. We are collating the amazing responses, observations and insights from the event. A number of people have put themselves forward to help drive actions from the event. We want something big to grow. The event was community-led and the outcomes from it need to be too.
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