Two-thirds of UK churches identify loneliness and isolation as top issue to tackle post lockdown

15 JUL 2020
New Allchurches Trust research has revealed that churches in the UK are gearing up to tackle a huge surge of loneliness in their cities and communities in the social aftermath of lockdown. 
 
Our Hope Beyond research shows that more than two-thirds of church respondents expect loneliness and isolation to be the most pressing need in the next three months, with 58% of churches predicting the same when looking a year ahead.
 
The Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally – a former Chief Nursing Officer in the Department of Health - 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. 
 
“It has been heartening to see our churches provide even greater levels of support to all of these people, and more, over these last four months – whether it be on Zoom, or socially-distanced. The ongoing challenge for our churches is to continue to support a culture in which everyone feels safe to share their struggles, and feels able to speak openly.”
 
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 new Hope Beyond grants programme, which is now open for applications.
 
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. Through our new Hope Beyond grants programme, 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.”
 
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 in mid-May that at least half a million more people in the UK may experience mental ill health as a result of COVID-191.
 
Dr Sue Protheroe, Clinical Mental Health Lead for Lincolnshire West, agrees that these 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 Royal College of Psychiatrists have reported not only an increase in referrals but a significant increase in the severity of mental illness being referred for the first time. Our mental health services were already stretched before the pandemic and struggling to meet demand.” 
 
Dr Sue Protheroe was part of the Steering Group that produced the Allchurches Trust-funded Cinnamon Network research: “The Church’s Impact on Health and Care 2017-18”, which explored the impact of church communities on health and social care and the potential for them to be scalable and replicable. 
 
She added: “A briefing paper by The Local Government Association acknowledges the response to the burden of ill-health and promoting wellness must be a "Whole System Approach" and specifically lists faith organisations as part of the system. 
 
“When the problems seem insurmountable, we, as Christians, have hope to offer! This funding by Allchurches Trust can help to make the leading of the Holy Spirit into practical realities to help our communities.”
 
Increasing loneliness and isolation and mental health issues are also likely to be exacerbated by accessibility and mobility issues, increasing physical and health needs or even lack of access to technology. While many churches are grappling with the stringent requirements needed to open church buildings and get activities and support up and running again, they are also battling digital limitations. One of the survey respondents says, “One of the biggest needs is to provide an appropriate means of sharing spiritual support to those that do not have access to the internet or any means of technology in the new normal.”
 
Yet, when probing the kind of support and activities churches plan to offer as a direct response to these needs, the research goes on to reveal that churches are embracing lockdown learnings in order to build resilience in their church congregations and communities as they look to better develop both wellbeing and digital capacity. Sixty percent of churches plan to introduce initiatives to tackle loneliness and isolation in older people (21% plan to do the same for younger people) along with prayer and bible groups. Close to two-thirds (70%) of churches plan more online worship, with 35% introducing more online activities, 25% facilitating additional online support groups and a fifth planning to digitally train some of the older members of the congregation.
 
Patrick Regan OBE, CEO and Founder of mental wellbeing charity Kintsugi Hope – a recipient of transformational grant funding from Allchurches Trust, 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. 
 
“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 environment less 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.”
 
A photograph taken by charity Kintsugi Hope
Kintsugi Hope
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