A Connected Scotland: our strategy for tackling social isolation and loneliness and building stronger social connections

The Scottish Government’s first national strategy to tackle social isolation and loneliness and build stronger social connections.

Priority 3: Create opportunities for people to connect

Perspective: Befriending Networks

In order to tackle social isolation and loneliness, it's vital that a range of options exists to meet the differing needs of those living in our communities, across all ages and stages. At Befriending Networks, our members are a key resource, with volunteers and befrienders often at the frontline in local communities. Befriending often supports those who are most marginalised and excluded in our society and who may be living with chronic isolation and loneliness. Providing that more formalised support to help them engage with their community, after first having the opportunity to build relationships, self-esteem and confidence, can make all the difference. But it's not all one way – the mutuality of the relationship between befriender and befriendee is often what's most valued and becoming a volunteer befriender provides significant benefits for the volunteers themselves.

Sarah Van Putten, Chief Executive

Sarah Van Putten, Chief Executive

Raise awareness of opportunities

People have told us that one of the barriers to them socially connecting is a lack of awareness about the opportunities in communities to take part in activities that are enjoyable and that create opportunities to build meaningful relationships through the pursuit of shared interests. We know that many organisations work hard to make information on community activity available, but that lack of awareness nevertheless remains an issue. Third Sector Interfaces (TSIs) play an important role in the third sector landscape, and there is a TSI based in each of the 32 local authority areas across Scotland. They are a key point of intelligence about local third sector organisations and are well positioned to identify support needs for local community groups, voluntary organisations, social enterprises and around volunteering. TSIs also have a key role in ensuring the third sector within their area has a voice, both locally and nationally, and that the local sector is well connected through partnership and collaboration. TSIs therefore occupy an ideal point for people to link into services and find out more about what's happening in their communities. For example, the TSI within South Lanarkshire, Voluntary Action South Lanarkshire, operate a 'Locator' tool which enables anyone in South Lanarkshire to find out what's going on in their local area. This is one of a host of good practice examples across TSIs and we will continue to work with the TSI network to develop and share these examples. We also know that organisations such as the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) and the Health and Social Care Alliance have taken forward the development of online information platforms, and we will consider the learning from these in informing our future approach.

Promote befriending

Befriending offers supportive, reliable relationships through volunteer befrienders to people who may otherwise be socially isolated. Across the country, there are befriending projects which organise effective support for many different people. Impact can be significant – befriending often provides people with a new direction in life, opens up a range of activities and leads to increased self-esteem and self-confidence. To help support befriending in Scotland, we'll provide funding to Befriending Networks over at least the next two years to build capacity and share best practice within the sector, raise awareness of befriending as a high-quality volunteering opportunity and link the developing evidence base on befriending into 'what works' to tackle social isolation and loneliness.

Spotlight: Epilepsy Connections

Steven and Michael both live with epilepsy. Steven volunteers with Epilepsy Connections as a befriender and has been matched with Michael since June 2018. They meet fortnightly to enjoy some fun social time together.

Steven: 'One of the most inspiring experiences as a befriender with Epilepsy Connections is watching my befriendee, Michael happy and satisfied as a result of engaging in regular one-to-one social interaction, whilst undertaking activities that previously was just impossible for him. The change in Michael's life in the space of a few months has been extraordinary.'

Michael: 'Some time ago I moved from Shetland to Glasgow and as you can imagine that is isolating in itself, but having epilepsy presents specific challenges. Meeting Steven has made me realise I am not alone and he has given me the confidence, to make choices that I just would not have been able to without meeting him. My life is quite different now I have a befriender, I feel less isolated, more confident about both myself and my health, and also that I take part fully in opportunities in my community.'

Promote physical activity

Participating in sport and physical activity can improve the quality of life of individuals and communities, promote social inclusion, improve health, raise individual self-esteem and confidence, and widen horizons. In conjunction with other factors, sport has the potential to contribute positively to society in general, and aspects of community planning in particular. Physical activity has strong physical and mental health benefits – in particular, it can help older adults to maintain mobility and reduce the risk of ill-health. This can help them maintain their independence and self sufficiency. Sport and group activities also provide a social space where people can interact. This, in turn, decreases the risk of social isolation. We know that being active brings about positive changes beyond participation and can impact positively on people in communities being better connected and socially cohesive. Working in partnership, sporting and non-sporting organisations can intentionally and proactively use sport and physical activity as a tool, not only to achieve increased participation but address wider individual and community needs such as social isolation and loneliness. The power of sport and physical activity has the potential to bring about positive, often interrelated changes and its impact cannot be underestimated.

We know that older people who are physically inactive have reduced mobility and muscle strength, leading to increased falls and poorer wellbeing and quality of life. This can be a particular issue for older people in care, and lead to a loss of confidence in going out into the community. To address this, the Scottish Government have provided more than £1.6 million since 2016 to the Care Inspectorate to expand their "Care About…Physical Activity (CAPA)[45]" Programme throughout Scotland and improve support for older adults experiencing care to move more.

We are committed to creating the conditions for sport and physical activity to flourish. We're already investing £50 million in the sportscotland Active Schools programme, and we'll leverage our additional investment in Scottish Sports Governing Bodies to encourage them to support efforts to reduce social isolation and loneliness. We'll continue to build on the legacy of the 2014 Commonwealth Games through funding streams to improve sports facilities and encourage community sports hubs to establish new sport or physical activity sessions for those who are most inactive in their communities.

We will also consider barriers to participating in sport and physical activity which may include a loss of confidence as a result of being socially isolated. We need to help people overcome these issues and enjoy the clear benefits that sport and physical activity can bring. In partnership with sportscotland, the Robertson Trust and Spirit 2012 we have already invested £1 million in community-based sport and physical activity projects in Scotland in a new Changing Lives Through Sport & Physical Activity Fund managed by Spirit 2012 aimed at changing lives and creating a more inclusive and healthier nation. Seventeen partnerships have recently been allocated a total of £1 million, of which at least six projects seek to address social isolation in the community. We will continue to fund Paths for All to develop and deliver an action plan for Let's Get Scotland Walking – the National Walking Strategy, and to ensure that their broader activities deliver against other national policy imperatives relating to physical activity, including the Active Scotland Outcomes. We will also continue to support the rollout of the Cycling Without Age Scotland project which provides older adults with the opportunity to cycle outdoors on specially designed trishaws.

Promote and enable volunteering

Volunteering, in all its forms, is central to ensuring that Scotland successfully achieves ambitious and meaningful change for those facing social isolation and loneliness. We recognise that volunteering has wide ranging benefits for the individuals involved, both those who give their time to help and people who use services. But it also has a positive impact on communities, and can go a long way to help building the connected Scotland we want to see.

Spotlight: 1st Step Café, Linlithgow

Supported by the Scottish Government Volunteer Support Fund, 1st Step Café is a community volunteering organisation that helps people affected by addiction to recover and reach their potential. Nearly all the volunteers involved in 1st Step projects suffer from isolation and the lack of confidence that this creates; most have lost contact with supportive friends and family because of past challenging behaviours. For them, volunteering with 1st Step is a bridge to building new relationships, replacing negative influences with new friendships, allowing them to share their skills and inspire each other to become the people they really want to be. 'After many years of living alongside addiction, volunteering has played a major part in helping me regain a sense of myself and control over my own life. It has given me a purpose and provides a community in which I feel valued and understood. After years of isolation and shame I can now walk around the town I have lived in for over 40 years with my head held high." – Current volunteer at 1st Step

Levels of volunteering in Scotland have been relatively stable since 2009 for adults, and increasing in younger people. However there remains a challenge in engaging people who are disadvantaged, with areas of deprivation consistently having lower levels of volunteering than more affluent areas[46]. A 2016 report by the Charities Aid Foundation found that many older people (73%) recognise that choosing to volunteer would have positive impacts for them, yet less than half report to have volunteered in the last year[47].

The Programme for Government 2018-19 recognises that we've made progress on our drive to increase participation in volunteering across society, building on the growth of youth volunteering during the Year of Young People by investing in the establishment of a National Youth Volunteering Design Team who will make recommendations to the Scottish Government early next year on actions required to grow participation rates. We have also invested in the development of our volunteering evidence base and maintained our funding to support third sector organisations to engage with those facing barriers to participation, providing £3.8 million over 2017-20 through our Volunteer Support Fund[48].

This seeks to improve the diversity of volunteers, and in 2016-17, resulted in 3,505 new volunteers being recruited from disadvantaged backgrounds[49]. In the coming year, we will publish a National Volunteering Outcomes Framework that will set out a coherent and compelling vision for volunteering and identify the key evidence and data to drive an increase in participation for all.

Utilise technology and digital

Access to digital technology for people clearly has a role to play in building social connections, and technology provides new and innovative opportunities to support people who may be isolated. Our aim is to ensure that everybody has the opportunity to participate in the digital world and to use the power of the internet to enable social mobility and tackle persistent inequalities. This starts with basic digital skills. We know the majority of people who do not use the internet at all or who have a lower level of confidence in their skills are older, have a disability or chronic health condition and are on low incomes. They are very often the same people who, due to circumstances, are more vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness. Whilst it is true that digital technologies can reinforce such feelings, we are clear they can also be a force for good by increasing independence, allowing people to renew old connections, make new friends, and provide access to services and information. The recently published Living Digitally report[50] clearly establishes the wellbeing benefits of digital participation, and a two-year project by Care and Repair providing access to digital skills learning for older people in their own homes successfully increased independence, skills and feelings of family connectedness[51].

But we know there remains more to do, and the 2017 Digital Strategy for Scotland committed to reassessing how we engage with vulnerable groups. As a consequence, a number of projects to improve digital skills and access are working specifically with young parents, people experiencing homelessness and young care leavers. The next step is to work with older age groups to understand how digital technologies can add value to their lives in a way that is meaningful to them. In addition to the provision of digital skills, we're well aware of the costs associated with getting online, and we're exploring how we can introduce affordable broadband for people on low incomes. We also recognise that the digital world poses challenges and risks – that's why we're investing in a number of programmes and initiatives that promote internet safety for children and young people, including Police Scotland's Choices for Life Online Peer Mentoring Programme and the Mentors in Violence Prevention Programme.


Email: Trevor Owen

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