Not all people who are socially isolated are lonely, and not all people who live in housing with care want to take part in community activities. My research into extra care for people living with dementia revealed that people both with and without dementia valued the social opportunities afforded to them in housing with care schemes. But it also revealed that the social side of housing with care didn’t always work well for everyone. I have been working with the University of Sheffield to further explore the role of space, place, people and activities in preventing loneliness and reducing unwanted isolation.
Extra care or housing with care schemes have developed some innovative services to be part of their local communities. I say communities, because those schemes that work well help the extra care community become part of the wider neighbourhood community; providing meaningful opportunities for local neighbours to enjoy events together with the extra care residents. If it’s a local bakery, a restaurant or a bar you are looking for, you may find it in your local extra care scheme.
The Centre for Loneliness Studies at the University of Sheffield has worked with partners and policy makers to consider what works well for different people. That has included working with older people as experts by experience as well as with major players such as the Campaign to End Loneliness, Age UK, the British Red Cross and the Co-operative society. Working as part of the London Loneliness Lab (opens new window) the Director of the Centre for Loneliness Studies said:
"In order to tackle loneliness we need to have meaningful interactions. It's not enough for strangers to nod as they pass in the street, those interactions need to have substance. For interaction to be meaningful and truly deepen connections, it's vital to look at spaces and places. People won't connect in public spaces if they don't feel safe or welcome there. Lighting, safety, places to linger, seating, and heating are all vital components to ensure we have physical environments that facilitate meaningful interaction."
Extra care housing is leading the way; creating places and spaces that provide opportunities for meaningful interaction take place. Last year Bromford Housing Group’s John Wade described the value of an extra care multi-use hall as a community hub in his guest blog for the Housing LIN, Helping a community come together – a shining beacon of retirement living.
By the very nature of loneliness and social isolation, people sometimes need help to feel safe and welcome and to take part. Extra care schemes work hard at developing an inclusive community as evidenced by initiatives such as the ‘Sidelines – creating space for men in extra care’ described by ExtraCare Charitable Trust’s Michael Spellman in his Housing LIN Blog, or the Community Circles work in building community across extra care housing in Wigan described by Sharon Wilton.
These extra care initiatives and the projects that the Centre for Loneliness Studies has evaluated have shown what works well in setting up and running services aimed at preventing loneliness or reducing social isolation.
Unfortunately there are some examples where it isn’t working as well as people would like such as the experience described in Sylvia’s story of sheltered housing by the Housing LIN’s Clare Skidmore. Whether an extra care housing scheme is supporting individual tenants, developing community services, or managing the extra care building we can and must encourage meaningful interaction through planned and spontaneous activity in well-designed environments. This Blog is a prelude to a forthcoming Housing LIN Viewpoint that will explore how to develop effective services to reduce loneliness, intended for publication in the next couple of months. Sylvia offered some suggestions to improve the quality of life for tenants and residents; it would be great to hear examples of the great work that you are currently doing and your top tips in setting up a new service to prevent loneliness or reduce isolation.
And if you found this of interest, you can read three other Housing LIN Viewpoints on extra care housing and dementia by Katey at: https://www.housinglin.org.uk/News/New-Housing-LIN-Viewpoints-discuss-extra-care-housing-for-people-with-dementia/
The Housing LIN is also pleased to partner the University of Bristol and ILC-UK on a new NIHR SSCR funded research into how social inclusion policies and approaches are put into practice in housing schemes for older people across England and Wales. More at: https://www.housinglin.org.uk/News/Promoting-social-inclusion-in-housing-with-care-and-support-for-older-people-in-England-and-Wales-DICE/