University’s Centre for Ageing Studies researches social loneliness as part of Cheshire-wide project

Posted on 12th September 2014

Research into tackling the 21st-century issue of social loneliness will be carried out by the University of Chester as part of a £5.2million grant issued to the public, private and voluntary sector this week (Monday, September 8).

The Centre for Ageing Studies at the University is a partner in the Brighter Lives Project which was announced as part of the Big Lottery’s Ageing Better Programme.

The money will fund a five-year partnership programme designed to identify, design and implement innovative solutions to the problems affecting older people across the borough. Led by Age UK Cheshire and managed by a partnership steering group, the ‘Bright Life’ project spent seven months interviewing over 760 older people and 22 organisations, gathering information to inform its successful funding bid. The next stage for the 11-strong partnership will be to develop a delivery plan for submission to the Big Lottery Fund by December this year for delivery in April 2015.

Led by Professor Paul Kingston, the Centre’s role will be to develop and lead on the scientific evaluation of the project alongside both partners and individuals who are involved and will participate over the five years of the venture.

The project is vitally important because recent research has shown that ‘15 per cent of respondents aged 85 years and older in the study live more than 40 miles apart from their children and 12 per cent of respondents living alone live more than 40 miles from their children. It has been noted that a lack of social contact reduces an older person’s well-being, can damage mental health and it can also be detrimental to physical health. In principle, the further away from their older parents children live, the less able they will be to provide regular support for them’. (Women’s Royal Voluntary Service, 2012)

Recognising that older people are the experts on their own lives, the University of Chester team proposes to adopt a collaborative approach based on the principles of participatory research. This is also consistent with the Brighter Lives programme aims of supporting older people to:

 

  • become more socially connected
  • be more active in their communities
  • have enhanced input into the design and development of services.

Essentially the team will work in partnership with older people across Cheshire to enable them to develop and strengthen the skills necessary to undertake robust, high quality research. The University of Chester staff and older people will work together collecting and analysing data on loneliness, community engagement, social connections and individual wellbeing. The aim is to produce a comprehensive report on the social connectivity of older people living in Cheshire that will be used in the development of a community engagement plan for the local community.

Professor Kingston, Director of the Centre for Ageing Studies, at the University of Chester, said: “This project fires the imagination of how individuals, communities and organisations can come together to generate new ideas for community cohesion and support for an ageing society. The University’s task is to provide an evidence base that will allow other parts of the country to replicate the successes we hope to see over the next five years.”