A smiling woman talks on the phone. She has grey hair and a pale pink jumper.

Overcoming loneliness with East Durham Trust.

A prescription for friendship has helped 71 people in East Durham to overcome loneliness and isolation.

The project, by East Durham Trust, was funded with £5,000 through County Durham Community Foundation’s NHS Health Improvement Fund.

People at risk of loneliness or suffering from poor mental health were invited to different sessions at local community centres where they received a warm welcome and the chance to get involved with activities like crafting, gardening, creative writing and upcycling.

Suzanne* attended a card-making session at Shotton Community Hub after the death of her husband during lockdown. Suzanne seemed to have little confidence, and was quick to say that she was no good at art. But the session leader encouraged Suzanne to have a go and soon the whole group was laughing and having a great time. Suzanne later said that it had been the best two hours she’d had in two years.

Bob,* an ex-miner, attended a gardening session at Horden Youth and Community Centre, when the centre manager recognised he was looking for company. The centre had previously hosted a men’s shed group, but this had stop during lockdown. The Friends on Prescription project helped the project to start up again with some positive activities.

Reduced inequalities

Bob has also benefited from additional support provided by the centre – including a warm winter coat and hot meals.

“The sessions have given me a reason to get up on a morning:” he said.

East Durham Trust is a charity based in one of the UK’s most deprived
communities. With a dedicated team of staff and volunteers, it works towards social and economic regeneration and supporting the most vulnerable people, through  a range of projects and services:

– A Foodbank; delivering food parcels to individuals and families facing financial crisis.
– A Telephone Befriending Service; supporting elderly and/or isolated individuals.
– A range of advice services covering issues such as debt, housing, welfare and benefits.
– A food delivery service; ‘The People’s Takeaway’ prepares and delivers hot meals to disadvantaged individuals and families.

Fighting loneliness

Lindsey Wood, deputy manager at the trust, said: “A lot of our work over the past year has been crisis intervention. We have been non-stop for food parcels, packed lunches and helping people with their shopping. People have lost their confidence for day-to-day getting about.

“So we are thinking about how we support community venues to reopen and the community to reengage.

“Isolation is a big issue for people, and it can affect any age. There are big problems around mental health and we have sadly heard of many suicides. I think the impact of the pandemic will last for a long time.”

In December, the Trust was also awarded £19,438.50 from the NHS ICS Winter Resilience Fund, again through the Foundation, to help reduce loneliness, maintain social prescribing activities and to help the most socially isolated people as the lockdown eases.

*names have been changed