Loneliness affects us all. Enterprising people have solutions we can all connect with.

Our Chief Executive Mark Norbury reflects on the government’s Loneliness Strategy.

Today marks the launch of the first ever strategy to combat loneliness. It’s a knotty problem that affects every generation, but particularly older people. Over one million people in later life say they always or often feel lonely.

It’s absolutely right for the Government to be formulating a strategic response to this very contemporary issue. UnLtd was pleased to put forward our own evidence as part of the consultation.

The good news is that social entrepreneurs are providing solutions that combat isolation and connect us across generations and communities. In our response we asked the Government to help remove the barriers those same entrepreneurs experience, so that they can reach many more.

The strategy has taken several positive steps in this direction. It signals an expansion of social prescribing, allowing GPs to refer patients to social ventures that tackle loneliness. The commitment to embed loneliness as a consideration across government policy means new potential funding opportunities for community and voluntary organisations.

But while the role of the voluntary sector in building connections is mentioned, we would have liked to see explicit reference to social entrepreneurs and the role they have to play. Some of the most effective ways of tackling loneliness come from social ventures. Why? They combine social innovation with entrepreneurial leadership and a growth model which allows them to reach more people, sooner, in a financially sustainable way. And they are typically much more representative of the communities they are serving than the private sector.

Some ventures, such as the Cares Family, have an explicit aim to tackle loneliness. The Cares Family connects young professionals with older neighbours to share experiences, enjoy each other’s company and learn from one another. Alex Smith recently became an Obama Fellow and one of UnLtd’s Pioneers. We are thrilled to hear that the Prime Minister is visiting the Cares Family today, recognising the enormous impact they’ve achieved in a short timeframe.

Many other social ventures support people more likely to experience loneliness. Disabled people, carers and refugees, for example. Social ventures don’t just help with finding social connections. Papi’s Pickles employs women fleeing conflict in Sri Lanka, offering more than just a job; an opportunity to be part of a community and connect through a shared cuisine.

The Government’s strategy addresses how community infrastructure can play a key role in supporting people to come together. It mentions accessing community space, inclusive transport and well-designed housing. We know that social entrepreneurs deliver such solutions. Through our Spaces 4 Change programme we have supported WeGym, who have turned an unused and unloved rooftop space at Ministry of Start-ups into a remarkable outdoor gym. WeGym hopes to build community cohesion through its affordable fitness classes and transform more underused spaces to hold their activities. Social venture School Space  is already helping schools to open up as accessible spaces in the centre of their communities. This supports local community groups, while increasing revenues for schools.

We welcome the announcement of new grants from the Active Ageing Fund. It supports programmes tackling loneliness through sport and physical activity for people over 55. We hope social entrepreneurs will be eligible for it. UnLtd supports a number of social entrepreneurs using the power of sports to tackle loneliness, such as Move It Or Lose It who provides accessible fitness sessions for those in later life.

Loneliness is a complex problem and the release of this strategy represents an important first step in tackling it. While social ventures are well placed to deliver innovative, enduring solutions to loneliness at scale, they all face barriers to growth. Lack of appropriate funding opportunities and difficulties finding routes to market hinder many brilliant ideas from reaching their potential.

While the Strategy includes several promising initiatives, it fails to explicitly address how these barriers will be removed. The Government has an opportunity to show its commitment to a happier, better connected society, by backing social entrepreneurs and those who support them. UnLtd looks forward to working with the Government to make this happen.

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Author Info

Mark NorburyChief Executive

I joined UnLtd as CEO in May 2016. I have over 20 years’ experience in the charity and social entrepreneurship sectors, most recently as Chief Executive of CW+, the charity for Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. Prior to this I was a Partner at Leader’s Quest, developing a global community of purpose -driven leaders across private, public and social sectors. I was also a Trustee of the foundation of impact investor Bridges Ventures. Before this I grew INSEAD’s Executive MBA to be a top 5- ranked program and co-founded the business school’s Social Innovation Centre. I have an EMBA with distinction from INSEAD and studied Psychology and Philosophy at Oxford University.

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