“If you think about it isolation is used as torture…if you’ve gone a week and you’ve not spoken to another human being, it’s pretty desperate.”
The quote above says it best: feeling lonely and isolated is a serious issue. The good news is that the Scottish Government has recently drafted a new strategy to tackle it, and they’ve invited lots of people to feed in.
The Men’s Shed, a local Shelter Scotland group run as part of the Foundations First project, has lots of experience in this area and we recently gathered their views to feed into the Scottish Government’s work. For those who haven’t heard of Men’s Sheds before (often not an *actual* shed!), they provide opportunities for men to catch up with peers and to take part in a variety of activities: for example, ours offers an allotment, a walking group, and joinery.
The Foundations First Men’s Shed told us their thoughts on how best to tackle social isolation:
- Social groups like the Men’s Shed are crucial to tackling loneliness by providing an activity, a sense of purpose and companionship.
“There’s only so much you can do in the house all the time. You can only cut that grass in the garden once a week, sometimes two. People can be very isolated, they don’t see anyone. [the Men’s Shed] is probably the only time people get out once a week to see people.”
“See for your mental health it’s good as well…see when you’re amongst folk, we’re social animals you’ve got to – we like to blether you know what I mean. And if you’re just sitting in that house alone, you’ll sink, sink, sink until your head goes under.”
“It’s nice to go home and you’ve done something constructive, done some exercise and then can just sit and relax then.”
- There needs to be more information about social groups that are available.
“It would have been handy for me to know about groups like this before things got really bad. But the thing is its not until you’ve already jumped off that cliff that you find out about places like this.”
- Supporting infrastructure, including funding and premises, is key to success of groups.
“Bring back community centres as that would just be a central hub for every organisation, every organisation would have their information in there, it would also give places for an organisation to meet up.”
- Local organisations, politicians and the council are all key players in tackling social isolation and developing services and raising awareness.
“I think it’s up to local agencies as well who work in the area to communicate about what’s missing, what’s needed, to do some consultation with people about what you want in your community.”
- However, communities themselves and local people are very important in raising awareness of and supporting services.
“You shouldn’t have to sit and say ‘please do this for us’.”
“Everybody should be talking, to make connections and raise awareness.”
- The group felt that the Government needs to provide more funding for community groups and ensure this is distributed in a fair way.
“They’re always saying on the TV how much community means to them – they should invest.”
“If the government are serious about sorting out isolation, because it is a big problem you know what I mean, so they’ve got to back it with money.”
“It’s all about equality – everyone should get a wee slice of the cake.”
At Shelter Scotland, we know all too well that housing issues can compound social isolation and loneliness and vice versa. Homelessness in particular can have a huge impact – resulting in increased stress, and frequent moves which make it difficult to put down foundations in any one area. As well as alleviating social isolation and poverty via assisting people with their housing, and by providing opportunities to volunteer benefitting both our volunteers themselves and those we work with, we know how important groups like the Men’s Shed are to local communities and individuals. As one of the men so neatly summed up:
“It’s so hard to put into words, but it’s worth something – it’s worth something different to every person. It all means something different to every person.”
Read the full discussion with the Men’s Shed