Loneliness: the big health risk and unspoken issue in Harrogate

Lonely in Harrogate
It’s hard to believe that people could ever feel lonely in England’s ex-happiest place to live.

Unfortunately, it’s a sad truth that often gets forgotten about in Harrogate’s daily hustle-bustle, thriving businesses and stream of tearooms and bars. Our busy social scene can masquerade the worrying reality that there are lots of lonely people in our town.

In fact, three quarters of people in Yorkshire and the Humber say that they have suffered with loneliness, according to recent research by the Yorkshire Post in partnership with the Campaign to End Loneliness.

Here at Harrogate Hub, we aim to combat these issues by reaching out to our community, because no-one in our town should be lonely, isolated or unsupported.

We have people coming through our doors with a whole variety of issues, from people needing help filling in forms to people who are suffering abuse, but by far the biggest need we see is loneliness.

Our friends over at Supporting Older People, based at East Parade’s Community House, share our passion for helping those in need.

Julia Lightfoot, who is Home Visiting and Activities Manger at the 30-year-old charity, said: “There’s a massive loneliness issue in Harrogate because it’s an aging town; a lot of people’s friends and family members have died.

“When people are a unit, like a husband and wife, it’s great… but when one of them passes away, the other is left thinking ‘what do I do now’?

The ‘what do I do now?’ moment is something that almost everybody will go through and will inevitably start to feel lonely.

Julia said that taking the initial step is often the hardest step for people, especially men, who often bottle up how they’re feeling.

At the Harrogate Hub, we’re also seeing younger people suffering from loneliness too.

Since, we opened in January, we’ve had people of all ages, from 18 to 90, coming through our doors.

Caroline Hurren, who is a pastoral carer at the Harrogate Hub, said: “Some people walk in before we’re even officially open and then they stay for the entire time. You wonder how long they’d stay if we didn’t have to close.

Several regulars have said it’s an absolute luxury to have a conversation, not just to be listened to, but to have a laugh as well. We’re not just meeting needs, we’re offering friendship.”

Not only is loneliness an often-overlooked issue, it is classified as a serious health issue.

“Chronic loneliness is cutting lives short, and the problem is growing”, said RCGP chair Professor Stokes- Lampard in her opening speech at the college’s annual conference.

Being lonely is worse for you than obesity and is as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

In the speech she gave in Liverpool at the beginning of last month, she called on the four governments of the UK to increase funding for general practice in order to give GPs ‘time to care’.

Health-care professionals are starting to signpost people to the Hub, because we are not time limited. We can provide long-term support, walking alongside people for as long as they need it and welcoming them into community.

Laura Alcock-Ferguson, Executive Director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, fully supports the call for GPs needing time to care. She said: “Our recent research with the LSE found that for every £1 spent on tackling loneliness, up to £3 can be saved in health costs – and GPs can play a huge part in identifying the older people who need help. We want all GPs to be able to spot the signs of loneliness, and would encourage GP surgeries – where possible – to link up with local services that tackle loneliness.

“We also need commissioners to fund the early interventions and services that will stop lonely people needing to go see their GPs in the first place. The health and economic benefits for tackling loneliness in older people are clear. Now, we need action.”

One way to help prevent this, according to Supporting Older People, is simple human contact.

Julia said: “It’s having that human voice to break up the monotony of the day. I have people who say all they do is stare at the same four walls every day. Having someone there breaks up their day, gives them a new face and a new aspect.”

The charity has around 70 volunteers. Many of them are matched as home-visitors to go to people’s homes and have a chat with them once a week.

They also host a range of activities from ‘tea and talk’, ‘singing group’ to frequent outings.

Young or old, anyone can feel lonely or isolated and it’s not a nice feeling at all. It can often engulf your life without even realising it; not to mention the impact it has on your health.

If you’re feeling lonely, why not pop in and see us at Harrogate Hub. Likewise, you can contact Supporting Older People.

Both charities are also looking for more volunteers. With the end of the year approaching, maybe you could make it your new year’s resolution to help combat loneliness in our town.

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Written by Rachel Williams
Edited by Ella Green

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