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How community projects are helping tackle loneliness and isolation

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Dr Chris Manning

MRCGP, Men’s Sheds

Our health is not simply the absence of illness; it is a positive state in its own right. Meaningful social interaction is proven to be vital in combating loneliness and maintaining our wellbeing.


When my younger brother died three years ago, preceded by my mother a few months earlier, I was very unsure what to do and sank into an episode of depression (whilst still on medication). I knew I had to do something real and meaningful to lift myself out of it. Having read about Men Sheds in Australia, I decided to set one up in an old church hall near where I live.

It is perfectly possible to feel very down and for life still to matter. There have been many challenges – especially COVID-19 – yet addressing these has brought some 20 of us much closer together and we are now ready to expand further into our community.

All in it together

Our motto is “Benefitting our community through meeting, making and mending together.” There are so many human ‘conditions’ that benefit from company, and activities that give meaning to life and protect health.

Many of our woes can be dissolved through meaningful activities, banter and the company of others and so we do our best to ensure that people are able to find their sweet spot. This might be quietly weeding; noisily turning something on the lathe; chatting to someone who has brought in an item for repair and much else.

There are so many human ‘conditions’ that benefit from company, and activities that give meaning to life and protect health.

Social prescribing

As a GP years ago and before the introduction of printers, I wrote ‘social prescriptions’ by hand on the script itself – advice for diet, exercise, relevant charities, mutual support groups and local/national charities. Now there is a National Academy of Social Prescribing to lead on both research and activities that enable people to be ‘signposted’ to relevant help and support.

Most recently, University College London launched a call for research into loneliness and self-isolation. Together, the UK Men’s Sheds Association (UKMSA) and the University of East Anglia bid successfully to research this issue in the context of Sheds. This will be instrumental in informing UKMSA strategy and operations; Shed organisers at local level and those to whom we all relate to in our various communities. It will also build on the recent research published by the Scotland Men’s Shed Association and lever Sheds into the ‘community conversation’ across the UK – without Sheds losing their soul in the process.

The UCL project has been funded by the Loneliness & Social Isolation in Mental Health Research Network, which is funded by UK Research and Innovation (Grant reference: ES/S004440/1) and their support is gratefully acknowledged. Any views expressed here are those of the project investigators and do not necessarily represent the views of the Loneliness & Social Isolation in Mental Health Research Network or UKRI.

References
https://www.ucl.ac.uk/psychiatry/research/epidemiology-and-applied-clinical-research-department/loneliness-and-social-isolation-28
Men’s Sheds as an alternative healthcare route? A qualitative study – Scottish Men's Sheds Association

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