A HIGHLY effective way of tackling Britain’s loneliness epidemic is involving people at grassroots level, according to a detailed study by a York social research agency.

A team from QA Research analysed the Neighbourhood Approaches To Loneliness programme by the York-based Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which explored ways of reducing loneliness within the local community.

They found that the programme, piloted in two areas of York - New Earswick and the Carr estate in Acomb - and two in Bradford, was life-changing for those most closely involved.

Many gained confidence, self-worth and new skills, and some made tangible gains, such as returning to college or employment.

People from each neighbourhood were engaged as community researchers on the project, helping to identify others who might be socially isolated and set up social activities to involve them.

This participatory approach was the most striking success of the project, concluded Qa researchers Angela Collins and Julie Wrigley.

“The highlight of the programme for both community researchers and professional stakeholders was the participatory community development approach which placed local people at the heart of everything,” they concluded.

“It allowed them to fail or succeed, to learn as they go, and to eventually create a small team of dedicated residents aiming to create change for themselves and their neighbours.”

The findings have implications for policy makers, they state in the report: “For many residents, volunteering in the programme has been a ‘leg-up’ to opportunities in education, employment or training.

“This calls into question a policy which penalises (or is perceived to penalise) those who are not actively seeking work while they are volunteering.

“We found that volunteering increases the likelihood of entering education or employment but that perceived consequences could deter potential volunteers.”

QA Research managing director Richard Bryan said: “Much of our work is dedicated to giving a voice to people who rarely get a chance to be heard, like those who took part in this ground-breaking programme.

“We hope policy makers take time to read this report. It has important implications as to how we alleviate loneliness, now recognised as one of society’s most pressing social problems.”