Mental Health Awareness Week 2022
Loneliness is one of the biggest challenges facing Norfolk. As the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, it provides the opportunity for us at Norfolk Community Foundation to reflect on this widespread issue and how it impacts the mental health of our communities.
Norfolk is a rural county. While our beautiful landscapes have inspired poets and painters, they also have a darker side. Around 60% of people in Norfolk live in a rural or semi-rural area – higher than the national average. These areas are often poorly served by public transport, lack local amenities, have few opportunities to socialise and suffer from poor technological infrastructure. This creates a perfect storm where loneliness sets in due to enforced isolation.
Kickstart, Tripstart and Rural loneliness
Kickstart has introduced a new fleet of electric vehicles to get people in rural areas on the move. This is thanks to two grants from NCF – one from Sheringham Shoal Community Fund and one from the J P Blanch. Not only are they cheap to maintain and good for the environment, but they are also the perfect machines for tackling loneliness.
One client, a 55-year old single male, lives in an isolated area near Blakeney. After suffering a mental breakdown and losing his job, he became increasingly lonely and isolated. Kickstart was able to provide an electric moped to him, and through the Tripstart scheme, he has been able to attend job interviews and secure a job, as well as attend sessions at a local Men’s Shed. The moped became a lifeline, allowing the man to re-join society after years of isolation and loneliness.
When looking at loneliness and isolation, we tend to focus on the individual rather than their environment. While this compassion is vital, we must not forget that there are practical barriers in our society that lead many in our county to be this way. Through community initiatives, creative thinking and vital funding, as we have seen, these issues can be overcome and people can overcome loneliness.
Norfolk Community Foundation works with many youth organisations combatting loneliness thanks to the Sir Norman Lamb Coalition for Young People. Coalition members working in isolated areas were able to take advantage of technology to connect with young people during the pandemic to reduce loneliness, and since the lockdown lifted have been able to meet in person. Older people have also benefitted from the recent Connecting Older People Fund, which got older people into their communities.