New research reveals that churches in the UK are gearing up to tackle a huge surge of loneliness and isolation in British communities in the social aftermath of lockdown. The Hope Beyond report, from Allchurches Trust, shows that more than two-thirds of church respondents expect loneliness and isolation to be the most pressing issue over the next 12 months.
The aim of the survey, which involved 638 respondents from churches across a range of Christian denominations, was to give a deeper insight into the key issues churches believe communities will be coping with due to the ongoing impact of the Coronavirus crisis both in the short and long term, and the benefits and barriers they anticipate in meeting those needs. These insights have helped shape Allchurches Trust’s Hope Beyond grants programme.
The issue of mental health and wellbeing was the second highest rated concern for around half of churches in both the short and long term; borne out by the Centre for Mental Health forecasting that at least half a million more people in the UK may experience mental ill health as a result of Covid-19.
UK experts comment on loneliness and isolation
Dr Sue Protheroe, Clinical Mental Health Lead for Lincolnshire West, agrees that loneliness and isolation issues pose significant challenges to our society, saying: “A recent briefing for Directors of Public Health in the UK has highlighted the psychological impacts on the population caused by the pandemic, but also by the behaviours and environments we have needed to adopt to curtail the spread of Covid-19. The detrimental effects on mental health can be identified in all ages.”
The Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, who acted as Chief Nursing Officer in the Department of Health before her ordination said: “Even before Covid-19 hit, across the Church of England we had been rightly moving towards a greater awareness of the need to attend to our mental health. Then, with the onset of the pandemic, we have witnessed those who struggle with loneliness at the best of times struck by the claustrophobia of lockdown. There have been older people shielding, less able to socialise online than some, feeling more isolated than ever. Others have lost their jobs or have been put under severe financial pressures.”
Patrick Regan OBE, CEO and Founder of mental wellbeing charity Kintsugi Hope said: “During Covid-19 we quickly moved our Kintsugi Hope Wellbeing Groups training online, enabling over 150 partner churches to reach their congregations and communities with resources to support people’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Since lockdown, over 300 leaders have been trained or are undergoing training. They, in turn, are running groups providing a safe and supportive space for those feeling overwhelmed, providing tools of self-management in a facilitated peer mentoring style setting.”
He continues, “By taking the groups online, people who would normally not be able to attend – such as parents struggling with childcare, those who are chronically ill or without transport, or those who find the digital environmentless threatening than face to face meetings – are getting the support they need from their local church. It’s clear from the Allchurches Trust Hope Beyond research that the need for churches to come alongside those who are struggling at this time is growing.”
The findings of the research have informed the development of this grants programme from Allchurches Trust, called Hope Beyond, which aims to enable churches and Christian charities to meet changing need within their communities as the longer term impact of Covid-19 becomes clearer. Allchurches Trust chairman, Tim Carroll, said: “Churches are already at the heart of providing vital community support, particularly in reaching out to the most vulnerable, and their role in tackling social issues such as loneliness and isolation will be even more critical as the longer term impact of Covid-19 becomes clearer. We aim to support churches and Christian charities to deliver innovative, impactful projects that will enable people, organisations and communities to flourish in life after lockdown.”