The debilitating effects of feeling isolated and alone will be tackled for the first time at a conference to improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable residents.
The issues will be discussed at the Croydon Congress on Tuesday 21 June at Fairfield Halls, where the rally call to delegates will be for everyone to help to build a connected borough where nobody is left isolated.
Loneliness can be harmful to mental and physical health, and adversely impact local services through increased hospital admissions, and with patients unable to return home because they have nobody to support them.
Research published earlier this year by the borough’s Opportunity and Fairness Commission, which is the driver for the congress meeting, found too many local residents live isolated and empty lives.
It estimated that around one in five (9,720) residents who are 65 years and older are lonely, and more than one in 10 (5,346) in that age group experience intense loneliness. In addition almost 16,500 18- to 64-year-olds in the borough feel socially isolated.
Their situation can stem from being elderly and unsupported at home, being the sole carer for a relative in need, having a physical disability, a long-term illness or moving into an area where they know nobody.
The congress will seek to establish the full extent of the problem in Croydon. Those attending will contribute towards local policy that better meets the health and well-being needs of residents and improve partnership working in this area.
Amara, who lives in central Croydon, told the commission: “When I first came here it was a big challenge. I was feeling isolated and I didn’t know who to approach at first… I didn’t have no family, no friends, no brother, no sister, nobody. The food bank has allowed me in my social life so much because, by going there, I have met new people.”
The Croydon Congress will be opened by Councillor Tony Newman, leader of Croydon Council, and Councillor Hamida Ali, cabinet member for communities, safety and justice, and vice-chair of the Opportunity and Fairness Commission.
Elaine Rashbrook, national lead for older people at Public Health England, and Rachel Flowers, Croydon’s director of public health, will address delegates representing the borough’s communities and health, faith, voluntary and charity sectors. They will hear residents’ experience of feeling alone and isolated, and find out more about the ongoing work to address these challenges in the borough and nationally.
Speaking ahead of congress, Councillor Tony Newman, leader of the council, said:
“Croydon is a growing social hub, with an evolving arts and culture scene, and increasing opportunities driven by technology, and all of our residents should benefit from local activities.
“There is a growing body of evidence calling for social isolation and loneliness to be treated as key priorities by local authorities, health professionals and communities because of the impact on a person’s health and well-being, which can then adversely impact on public services and the local economy.
“This has been recognised by the borough’s Opportunity and Fairness Commission. The Croydon Congress will now place these issues at the heart of the local agenda to help us all better understand the wider impacts and deliver appropriate interventions.”
Councillor Ali added: “I am pleased that we are taking forward a key recommendation of Croydon’s Opportunity and Fairness Commission, which wanted to see more visible leadership on this vital issue. Tackling isolation at root and improving support networks in the community could transform the lives of many of the loneliest people in the borough, and deliver major cost savings for local services.
“Even though certain characteristics put some groups at greater risk, social isolation and loneliness can affect anyone at any point in their lives. The multifaceted nature of the issue presents a complex challenge to Croydon. This is one area where collaboration between the communities and the private, public and voluntary sectors is essential.”