Protecting community spaces, like village halls, is an important part of the fight against loneliness and social isolation and it is right that organisations like ACRE continue to champion the vital role these places play.
They are areas where people of all backgrounds can come together and as such they really do help to foster connections between people, any decrease in these sorts of spaces could be detrimental to affected communities and harm the wellbeing of individuals.
This is even more true in rural areas where village halls can often be one of the few go-to venues for events ranging from christenings, birthday parties, weddings or funerals. Coupled with the reduction of high street shops, pubs and libraries their decline can leave communities with no obvious areas to congregate, chit-chat or meet new people.
When we partnered with the Co-op to study the issue of loneliness our Trapped in a Bubble Trapped in a Bubble research revealed unsurprisingly that people benefit from having communal spaces where they can connect with others. Participants in that research raised concerns about the disappearance of these places because it often results in the loss of a simple yet potentially powerful means of regularly connecting to their community.
On the back of this research our partnership funded Connecting Communities services across the UK which are aimed at tackling loneliness, these services provide one to one person-centred support to individuals experiencing loneliness, with the aim of helping them connect to their communities.
One of the key learnings we found from our Connecting Communities services is the importance of addressing the gaps in community infrastructure which sadly often act as barriers for individuals to overcome feelings of loneliness.
Village halls can often be one of the few go-to venues for events ranging from christenings, birthday parties, weddings or funerals.
These growing gaps include the decline in community spaces as well as a lack of transport, a particularly pressing issue for rural communities where infrequent, inaccessible or even non-existent transport limits the opportunity of people to get out and about and meet people.
In our Shared Learning Report, a study of our Connecting Communities scheme as well as 50 other ‘connector’ style services, we recommended that funders and commissioners should recognise the wider dependencies of these crucial connector services on community infrastructure.
It is key for the UK Government and devolved administrations, as well as local authorities and local public bodies, to consider how to address gaps in key community resources such as transport and community meeting spaces as this is having a direct impact on those experiencing loneliness.
For more information on the British Red Cross’ action to tackle loneliness, visit www.redcross.org.uk/lonely
By Olivia Field Policy and engagement lead for loneliness and social isolation at the British Red Cross