Libraries could help to tackle above-average levels of loneliness and social isolation for residents of Banbury and Oxfordshire

Libraries could form part of a strategy to tackle above-average levels of loneliness and social isolation for residents of the Banbury area and Oxfordshire

Monday, 22nd November 2021, 12:23 pm
Updated Monday, 22nd November 2021, 12:24 pm
Libraries may be part of a solution to combat loneliness and isolation in Oxfordshire. Picture by Getty

Figures presented to the Health Improvement Partnership Board at Oxfordshire County Council showed nearly a quarter of adults in the county often felt lonely in the year 2019-20, more than three per cent higher than the average for the south east and almost two per cent higher than the average across England.

The problem also applies to users of adult social care services with 44.1 per cent - again lower than the average for the south east and for England - saying that they have as much social contact as they would like.

Chair of the board Councillor Louise Upton (Lab, Walton Manor, Oxford City) threw down the gauntlet to districts to act.

“I was really struck by the loneliness data," she said.

“I can see this is affecting people from young renters to 10-year-olds to widowers and I think there is something there for the district councils to really think about what we can do, whether that is organising street parties or something that gets people who are isolated to meet.”

The impact of Covid-19 is likely to have increased those figures with Dr Rosie Rowe, Oxfordshire’s lead for healthy place shaping, keen to get social prescribing - a process that connects people to community services that help their health and wellbeing - moving again.

“One of the areas we are particularly interested in is looking at the role of libraries as safe places that people feel comfortable attending and how their role can potentially be expanded, not just as physical spaces but the role they have in book delivery to people who cannot get to a library,” she said.

“Looking at the assets within communities will be really important and the work that the districts do in terms of building community capacity is vital, particularly for social prescribing.

“We know that many organisations and activities still haven’t stood up since the pandemic, some have done okay but others have not started and for social prescribing to be effective, and that often looks at loneliness, they need organisations and activities to refer to.

“This is all interlinked and requires that kind of partnership approach.”

However, Councillor Helen Pighills (Lib Dem, Abingdon Abbey Northcourt, Vale of White Horse District) said active engagement would be needed amid ongoing concerns over Covid.

“I think it is significant that those loneliness and social isolation figures are pre-pandemic and we know anecdotally now much worse it got,” she said.

“The feedback is that people are getting slightly more confident about coming out and meeting outdoors but there was definitely a sense that people did not want to get out and meet at places indoors. I can’t imagine that has improved particularly and it is a challenge. These people are still very nervous.”