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£6 million grant tackles social isolation amongst older people

Over 12,000 of Sheffield’s most socially isolated older people are to benefit from a £6 million grant from the Big Lottery Fund. The funding will also help pave the way for support for future older generations.

South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA) receives £5,920,107 to lead a partnership of 11 organisations using creative and innovative methods to engage over 50’s at the highest risk of loneliness. Areas of focus for the funding will include older people on low incomes, carers, BME groups, those experiencing poor mental health and those with limiting conditions living in Sheffield. 

This partnership aims to address the issues of poor physical and mental health for individuals as more people are at risk of becoming isolated as our population of older people grows. The Ageing Better investment from the Big Lottery Fund wants older people to be happier, healthier and more active, contributing even more to their communities. 

There are 177,000 people who are over 50 in Sheffield. Of these, 12,213 who suffer loneliness often will benefit. By 2021, Sheffield wants to be a recognised centre of excellence for services that reduce loneliness, using knowledge sharing and spreading good practice across the UK and internationally.

 Juliann Hall, Care Health and Wellbeing Director for South Yorkshire Housing Association said: “The £6m investment by the Big Lottery Fund is great news for Sheffield. It will help South Yorkshire Housing Association to make a real difference to the lives of older people in the city, creating vital new projects that prevent and reduce loneliness.”

“In developing our vision for Ageing Better in Sheffield, we spoke to more than 500 older people, using creative techniques such as ‘20s themed cocktail parties, selfie-booths, on-the-buses interviews and spoken-word events. These imaginative and non-traditional methods sparked revealing conversations about the causes of loneliness, while challenging perceptions of what it means to grow older in our city.

“We know that loneliness has a terrible effect: doubling the risk of dementia, tripling the risk of heart conditions and having an effect on mortality equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Over the course of this 6-year project, we aim to empower over 12,000 older people in Sheffield to co-design and co-deliver lasting solutions to this problem.”

The partnership will train 1,000 frontline workers including housing officers, community pharmacists and supermarket staff to ‘Make Every Contact Count’ by recognising loneliness and linking at risk older people with Ageing Better champions. Each trained frontline worker is expected to train at least ten others, so that 10,000 people in Sheffield will be able to identify older people who are at risk by 2021. A Loneliness Index will be used to target interventions and ensure services will be better planned, better coordinated and better delivered for those most in need. Local communities will also be encouraged to help as 43,000 neighbourhood toolkits will be distributed to inspire community action.

Both Sheffield universities will be used to help with local evaluations so that the project can identify patterns and identify new areas of need. Data will be analysed and shared continually. 

Older people themselves will be trained to help other isolated older people access social activities. Opportunities such as project auditors/peer researchers and mentoring beneficiaries will be available.   

Nat Sloane, Big Lottery Fund England Chair, said: “Just under four million older people told Age UK this year that television is their main company. Social isolation is bad for health with links to chronic conditions and increased mortality. With more people living well into their eighties, pressures on local services and budgets will continue to rise.

“There are concerns about a ticking time bomb facing adult social care, but older people have a wealth of experience and skills to offer their communities. We need to tap into this – to help them help themselves and others living alone. Our Ageing Better investment will put them at the heart of the way the projects are designed and delivered to ensure that future generations of older people not only live longer but also live well.”

South Yorkshire Housing Association will be developing more detailed plans to tackle social isolation amongst older people, with projects starting from spring 2015. Over the six years of the Ageing Better investment, the Sheffield partnership will test what methods work and what don’t, so that evidence is available to influence services that help reduce isolation for older people in the future.

Sheffield is one of 15 partnerships in England sharing £82 million in the Ageing Better investment.

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