Tackling loneliness in communities


The murder of the late MP Jo Cox has not only sparked outrage, but an outpouring of goodwill and funds, now being channelled into the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. With more than half of all people 75 and over living alone (according to the Office for National Statistics, 2010), five charities have come together to coordinate a faith response on this issue. 

The Commission has devoted the month of April to looking at loneliness from the perspective of older people. To support the Commission's work, The Bible Reading Fellowship, through its programme The Gift of Years, has teamed up with Capital Mass, Linking Lives UK, Livability and Pilgrim’s Friend Society

Community-based support

BRF's The Gift of Years is dedicated to improving the spiritual lives of older people in the UK. At its heart is the Anna Chaplaincy model of ecumenical, community-based chaplaincy for people of strong, little or no faith. It is a centred on individuals, non-judgemental ministry to people in later life, their relatives and carers. 

Anna Chaplains are a practical response from churches to the rapidly growing aging population. They have time to spend with people, listening. It’s through telling and having our stories heard in our later years that we foster hope and resilience for the future. Anna Chaplains also encourage others to volunteer, and there are a growing number of such Anna Friends supporting the work of individuals in places such as Kent, Hampshire and Warwickshire.

Unknown photographer, permission to use granted, 268745_228835513806775_107931552563839_847728_6110509_n.jpg

Sharing conversation with those who need it most

Anna Chaplains are catalysts for good ideas to take shape. For example a Library Club, where older people can meet, and where volunteers can help socialise and assist with choosing books. In Alton, Hampshire, the club, begun by an Anna Chaplain, has been going for six years on an afternoon when the building is normally closed to the public. Now it is run by one of the volunteers themselves, one of the growing number of Anna Friends.

A community bus provides transport, volunteers serve tea and members bring poems and other readings to explore a new theme each month. It’s been a bonus to invite recently bereaved people, who might be finding life tough, and this is a way for them to come and meet others, share conversation and feel useful once more. 

No one likes to think of themselves as lonely; it’s hard to admit to oneself, let alone others. But having a regular date on the calendar to meet people in this way, and be introduced to new friends, is especially helpful for those who may have lost a spouse or partner; a way to start gently helping others in the same boat, and to feel wanted again.

Other ideas Anna Chaplains may help with include:

  • CAMEO (Come And Meet Each Other) – clubs with activities and speakers to keep people stimulated and connected.
  • Our Bible Reflections for Older People – a collection of daily readings that becomes a companion when a visitor has left.
  • Lunch Clubs and Tea @ Three, where conversation is key and chaplains deliver a comforting ‘thought for the day’.
  • Dementia cafes supporting both those living with the condition and their carers.

More suggestions and resources


Community bus.jpg

Offering a sustaining friendship

When an old man's budgie companion died, he asked if I would go and help him buy another. For a moment, I thought to myself, 'Does this constitute spiritual care?' But there was no hesitation, really, when you see how a living creature offers companionship, especially to someone living alone in their old age. If an Anna Chaplain can help someone continue that kind of sustaining relationship, it definitely falls under the job description. 

Debbie Thrower, Team leader of The Gift of Years and Anna Chaplain
Debbie Thrower

What can I do next?

Under the slogan ‘Start a Conversation’ and using the Twitter handle #faithtogether and #happytochat, the five charities are mobilising Christians to help themselves, and others around them, to become part of the solution – whether by talking to a neighbour, visiting an old friend or just making time for people they meet.

Find out more about Anna Chaplaincy.

Pledge to start a conversation.

Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.

Resources to help combat loneliness 

Image acknowledgements

© Jonathan Cherry / inverted and cropped