Cross-border Learning: Belgian and UK partners exchange experiences

In early November, SIG‘s HAIRE team were delighted to welcome our Belgian partners Sofie Schepers and Katrien Serroyen who were visiting Cornwall from Laakdal. After a weekend of cultural and historical activities – taking in Guy Fawkes’ night and a tour of Falmouth’s Tudor castle, Pendennis – they spent a day exchanging experiences with Feock (one of our pilot sites) before travelling to East Sussex pilot sites and meeting our partners at Rother Voluntary Action and East Sussex County Council.

The East Sussex team were keen to give as broad a picture as possible of their locality and took our Belgian colleagues on a tour that took in the quaint beauty of Rye (cobbled streets and the fifteenth century Mermaid Inn), Tilling Green social housing estate, new housing in Winchelsea, and a relatively new community hub – The Hub on the Hill – which runs many classes and services for the community with an emphasis on older residents.

Katrien and Sofie are smiling, standing in front of Pendennis Castle in Falmouth, Cornwall

Katrien and Sofie at Pendennis Castle, Falmouth, Cornwall

The cultural exhange and sharing is important for Interreg2Seas funded projects. They promote cooperation between regions and countries to enhance economic and social development in our own countries and across borders. Our HAIRE 2Seas partners share the common challenge of supporting people to age well in rural areas, where loneliness and isolation and mobility problems are just some of the themes being tackled. Having had very few opportunities to meet due to restrictions brought about by the Covid pandemic, it was inspiring to share experiences and perspectives from nearly three years of HAIRE action and learning in our respective locations.

The HAIRE teams from East Sussex and Belgium are looking over a vista of housing and fields near Rye

Steve, Sue and Naomi from East Sussex taking the Belgians on a tour of their locality

At the initial meeting in Devoran, the village in Feock parish where the council offices are located, the difference between locations felt quite stark to our Belgian colleagues: Laakdal is a municipality with a population of around 16,000, whereas the population in Feock Parish numbers around 3,700. The larger East Sussex pilot sites felt more familar to the Belgian team. Yet one of the most difficult challenges for all locations has been reaching members of the community who may be in need, or may benefit from HAIRE’s activities, but who are almost “hidden.”

The extended HAIRE team pictured in the "warm space" at Feock parish council

The extended HAIRE team pictured in a community space at Feock parish council

However, as a result of the emphasis the HAIRE toolkit placed on listening to residents, the needs of the older population as a whole can be better taken into account. Now that HAIRE and its ethos of co-creation and listening is familiar to each department and area of responsibility, the views, opinions, needs and ideas of residents are being heard, and this has led to subtle changes in the system. Different methods to listen and co-create products and services have been introduced in all of our pilot sites to ensure their older residents are included in important decisions.

Feock now has an information and help line, originating out of the Covid pandemic, but which has become a staple of the parish. A legacy of HAIRE is that parish-based decisions take into account any impact on the older population in a way that they may not have been so obviously before. It is the same in Laakdal: the planning department, for example, is aware of the way its decisions impact the elderly – and they are now prepared to consult the HAIRE team for information about how they might best move forward with their works.

East Sussex partners have done an excellent job by instigating local and national design innovations after working with the RSA, the royal society for arts, manufactures and commerce (“committed to a world that is resilient, rebalanced and regenerative, where everyone can fulfil their potential.”) Their Hastings and Rother Ageing Network meets monthly to network with local organisations, groups and individuals with a focus on how they can work together to make Rother and Hastings healthy and supportive places to grow older in.

From a longer term, strategic standpoint, Feock has made the decision to work with partners to develop a formal age-friendly community as our partners in East Sussex have done. The Guided Conversations in pilot sites illustrated the multiple dimensions of ageing well, which prompted the need for a holistic system response, and the UK arm of the World Health Organisation’s Age Friendly Communities programme is well aligned with the aims of the HAIRE project.

As Katrien and Sofie pointed out, the pilot site comparisons were useful, showing commonalities and differences and making them reflect on what went well in their own communities – and how “HAIRE thinking” could be built into longer term planning.

“Feock felt very isolated in comparison to Laakdal. The lack of public transport, the lack of shops, the very rural environment, the huge amount of second homes … I would think that building the community would be very difficult. Yet they succeed to organise meetings where 80 people attend and they make the most of small things (the red phone booths made into small libraries). Well done Feock! Rye felt more like Laakdal. What stood out was that both pilot sites are much more in contact with the church. In Belgium the church doesn’t organise much and in our pilot site the church isn’t involved. What was also different is the health part. I think that in the UK the health partners and health “input” is bigger than in Belgium. In Laakdal it’s more community building and well being than health. What I think both pilot sites did very well is thinking about life after HAIRE right from the beginning of the project. I believe that that will make it possible to continue and embed HAIRE better.”

The Belgian team are pictured with people from Feock and the University of Exeter - and the HAIRE mascot, a Corgi called Treacle

The Belgian team with Feock and the University of Exeter – and the HAIRE mascot, Treacle

East Sussex Conference: Innovations in Healthy Ageing

View from the De Warr Pavilion

19th October 2022 saw our colleagues at Rother Voluntary Action and East Sussex County Council hold a Healthy Ageing social innovation workshop at the De Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea. The conference brought the community up to speed on what the team has achieved so far through HAIRE. It was a thought provoking day, with our partners not only sharing innovations devised so far, but also brainstorming with the community about new place-based innovations for healthy ageing.

Kate Leyshon stands with two colleagues from RVA

HAIRE’s PI Catherine Leyshon with colleagues from Rother Voluntary Action

Collaboration between VCSOs, public and private sector and older people continues to lie at the heart of much-needed changes to the design and delivery of services, and it was exciting to see so many people present who were clearly committed to improving the lives of older people. From the start, there was a lot of energy in the room, and there was a very high level of interaction and ideation throughout.

Four key themes emerged from the HAIRE project’s Guided Conversations and form the basis for innovations in Rye and Robertsbridge and beyond: Loneliness and Isolation; Transitions and Life changes; Planning for the Future and Staying Active.

A tweet describing the Life Transitions service briefly and calling for volunteers

The Life Transitions Service pilot was launched in summer 2022

One result (that crosses multiple themes, in fact) is the team piloting a “Life Transitions Service.” This has, at its heart, the simple truth that the further ahead you can plan, the better the outcome. The Guided Conversations showed that sometimes, the decisions people make when moving to rural areas are not always ideal, as they can fail to take their ageing needs and later life changes into account – and end up encountering loneliness, isolation and other difficulties.

The aim of the service is to help people arrive in later life as prepared as they could be, and to provide a listening ear and a signposting service to help individuals make important decisions that can help make a positive impact on later life. Volunteers have been recruited and trained in using the approach as an example of a new model of service focused on prevention. The volunteer model for the Life Transitions service is being rolled out next year, and the team are considering ways to extend the service beyond their local area.

Designers were asked: How might we create joyful place-based opportunities for people across generations to improve planetary health?

Another innovation scheme in progress is the RSA/HAIRE Design Competition. The RSA – the royal society for arts, manufactures and commerce – is all about social impact, and the competition includes factors that go beyond personal, social and community issues. The partnership came up with a competition for design students to combine planetary health and ways to work intergenerationally to inspire healthier communities.

Winning designs will be tested in the summer of 2023, and included in the Age Friendly programme to ensure a long-lasting legacy. In parallel, there will be a community design competition, which was kicked off at the workshop: “How might we create fun opportunities in local communities for younger & older people to come together and improve each other’s health & the health of the planet?” All sorts of ideas were mooted: from Ready, Steady, Cook at the local food bank to a rickshaw club for greener, healthier, intergenerational transport.

Attendees all smiling as they write down their ideas for green healthy ageing initiatives

Kudos to product design student Jacob, who travelled down from Loughborough to hear all about HAIRE in order to better shape his design team’s submission.

Regarding strategic, system level innovation, East Sussex continues to develop a formal ‘age-friendly community’. The Guided Conversation analysis illustrated the multi-dimensional and interconnected dimensions of ageing well, which prompted the need for a holistic system response. The team (ESCC and RVA) worked with Rother District Council  – who are an official observer partner – to write an application to join the UK arm of the World Health Organisation’s Age Friendly Communities programme, as their approaches and domains of interest are well-aligned. The application was approved by the Rother District Council Cabinet and then by the Centre for Ageing Better, who run the UK AFC Network. The HAIRE Project collaborated with Rother District Council, local volunteers, and other stakeholders to develop the local AFC programme, holding a visioning workshop with key councillors and other local stakeholders to identify and agree priorities. These were presented and discussed at the conference, which finished on a futuristic note and a brainstorming session creating innovations 50 years into the future.

It was an inspiring day! 

Paul Bolton standing at the podium at the HAIRE conference

“It was great to bring aspects of the HAIRE partnership together and highlight the wider dimensions of the project. Our aim was to focus on the innovations to boost the momentum around Healthy Ageing going forwards and to set out the HAIRE legacy.” – Paul Bolton

 

Kate’s Grand Tour Part 4: Farewell Belgium

This last instalment of our PI Kate’s travel blog covers her last day in Belgium in April 2022, the final stop of a ‘grand tour’ in which Kate met members of the community through various meetings, lunches and gatherings. Sadly, the popular singer Kate mentions below – Juul Kabas – has since died unexpectedly. You can read a tribute to Juul here. 

On Wednesday it’s time to meet the Mayor of Laakdal, Tine Gielis, and Alderman Gerda Broeckx. Gerda has specific oversight of HAIRE and is keen to hear about progress and successes, of which there are many. We meet for lunch with a group of older people who gather regularly for a subsidised meal and conversation. The atmosphere is very convivial.

The Mayor, Alderman, Laakdal Team and I discuss the familiar issues of community engagement, encouraging younger volunteers and making sure that everyone’s voice is heard. We also explore how new models of service design and delivery can bring together the public sector and the local community groups and volunteers. I also meet Freddie, Laakdal’s Super Volunteer, who does a great deal in his community. He is part of HAIRE and has conducted several Guided Conversations. Stalwarts like Freddie can be found in every community, and are greatly valued.

My last day in Belgium sees me attending the Seniors’ Party, a twice-yearly event which, pre-Covid, used to attract 600 older people from the municipality for entertainment, drinks and a sandwich lunch. About 250 people attend this lunch, seated at long tables set out in a sports hall decorated with fairy lights around the walls. There is a stage, lighting and an impressive sound system. Alderman Gerda Broeckx makes a speech about HAIRE. The entertainment is provided by Juul Kabas who sings popular sing-along classics and gets everyone clapping. Freddie is also volunteering at this event and tells me that Juul was badly affected during lock down, unable to do shows. Juul signs off his set with the phrase “If you lose your smile, you lose your heart”. The Seniors’ Party was a model of community action, with everyone working hard to create a joyous atmosphere.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to East Sussex and Belgium. I met people who I have only previously met over Teams, and I relished seeing them in action at the various events I attended. Everyone worked hard to make me welcome, which I really appreciated. There’s amazing work going on in our pilot sites and I am really looking forward to a few more trips before the project ends in March 2023. A huge THANK YOU to everyone involved in planning and making this trip a reality.

Kate’s Grand Tour Part 3: Training in Adjacent Areas

One of the objectives of our project is to extend the use of the HAIRE toolkit beyond the borders of our pilot areas. Kate’s visit to Laakdal (one of our pilot sites) included training new volunteers in the village of Bergom in the neighbouring municipality of Herselt. This region is a good example of how the toolkit can be customised to suit the community it is used in. Assisted dying is legal in Belgium, and the toolkit needed to include training volunteers in conversations about end of life. This is the third of four short blogs about Kate’s visit to Belgium in April, 2022.

On my second full day in Belgium, myself and the local project team (Katien, Sophie and Severine) train Jill Van der Auwera from the neighbouring municipality of Herselt, which comprises the villages of Herselt proper, Ramsel, Blauberg, Bergom and Varenwinkel. The sat nav takes me to an empty field about 5k from our meeting point. Thank goodness for Google Maps.  

We meet in a community hall in a small village surrounded by farmland and forests. This area feels more remote than Vorst, with more small, scattered settlements. The team in Laakdal – including the volunteers – will help to train professionals and volunteers in Herselt in the next few weeks. The issues that face their older community – especially the rising cost of living – are very familiar. We incorporate the insights from Laakdal’s volunteers into the session, which really helps with the practical aspects of applying the HAIRE toolkit elsewhere. After our session, we walk through the quiet, neat village to the magnificent Catholic Church with its lofty, modern interior and high, vaulted wooden ceiling.  In the evening, I drive to Bergom to attend the training of volunteers in conversations about end of life. This is a particular focus for Herselt and an issue for which they have adapted their Guided Conversations. Although the training is in Flemish, I keep up with the slides by putting a few key phrases from each into Google Translate. The training covers why and how we should talk about and prepare for the end of life along with useful case studies. Assisted dying is legal in Belgium, so some of the training is about that. A new model of palliative care is presented which introduces elements of palliative care alongside continuing treatment in a more gradual way. This breaks down the cure/care dualism in which only when the search for a cure ends does palliative care begins. Instead, this model seeks to open up the conversation about the journey towards the end of life more gradually and in a supportive and empathic way. It is a moving and very productive session.

 

Extending the HAIRE toolkit: Guided Conversations with In The Mix Project

Over the past couple of months, a small team from the University of Exeter’s Social Innovation Group has been working on adapting HAIRE’s Guided Conversation tool for use in youth work. Two interns, Matilda Ferguson and Lewi Connor, have been involved in this process, and Matilda very kindly agreed to write a blog about it. Read on…

The HAIRE project aims to support older people in rural areas. One of the systems tested by the HAIRE project is Guided Conversations. These take the shape of a semi-structured discussion, prompted by images, general themes and talking points such as the local area, relationships, interests and community. Using the Guided Conversation tool, the HAIRE project has been able to explore the isolated situation of older people in rural areas, and identify their needs and desires. The Guided Conversations became not only part of a study into the rural isolation experienced by older people, but a tool for combatting it.

We have been working alongside In The Mix to explore implementing the Guided Conversations tool into youth work in rural areas. The In The Mix Project (ITMP) is based in the small town of Wiveliscombe, Taunton Deane. However, the charity provides youth and community services across Somerset. ITMP offers informal educational, activities and positive opportunities programmes to provide learning, skills and experiences, which supports young people’s personal, social, emotional and professional development, as well as boosting self-esteem and confidence. Their approach to youth work is flexible and based on issues and values prevalent to young people, their communities and their environment.

Image taken from In the Mix Project website

Working alongside the charity’s project manager John Hellier, we have tailored the prompts and structure of the HAIRE Guided Conversation to fit the focus of ITMP and context of youth work. Our version of the Guided Conversation covers three themes: place-based’, ‘people-centred’ and ‘empowerment’. We have also adapted the tool into a new format: an app. The app shows participants these themes, as well as some sub-topics, image prompts and radars which shows how positively they rate the topics discussed.

We hope that the Guided Conversations will help us to understand the situation of young people living in rural places in terms of the issues and relationships they have with their areas. This research will help youth work in rural areas to be responsive to young people’s needs. As well as this, we hope that like we have found in the HAIRE project, the Guided Conversations themselves will not just be research tools. The discussion provides opportunity for people to open up, share, connect and be heard. This itself will combat isolation and prompt discussion about solutions. The app also provides the opportunity for action through its ‘signposting’ feature, which will allow young people to find existing services to support them.

Over the last week, Lewi and Matilda went up to Exeter to meet with John to try it out. Our practice guided conversation lasted almost three hours and was a great way to understand how the tool would work in practice. After a few adjustments, the app is ready to be tested and we look forward to trying it out at ITMP sessions over the next couple of weeks.

Matilda Ferguson

Image taken from In The Mix Project website

 

 

 

 

Talking Deck to help people with life and health issues

The Talking Deck is a new resource that has been co-designed by researchers from the University of Exeter, staff and volunteers at CoLab Exeter’s wellbeing hub, people with lived experience of homelessness, and artist Hugh McCann. The project is aligned with Project HAIRE and is based on the Guided Conversation model, showing how the HAIRE toolkit can be customised for different target groups.

The Talking Deck aims to facilitate conversations that are led and shaped by individuals seeking support. Sometimes the purpose of a conversation is simply to allow individuals to share their experiences with staff and volunteers at CoLab Exeter. As seen below, the cards in the deck include a collection of symbols, words and place-based images. They are carefully curated to help people speak about the issues that are important to them.

A variety of Talking Deck cards are in the photo, e.g. a key, a heart, trainers, animals, pictures of Exeter and words such as 'yesterday', 'future' and 'fear'.

Over a series of workshops, staff, volunteers, researchers and people with lived experiences came together to co-design the Talking Deck pack.

“Listening and co-production has been at the heart of this project. We’ve created these together with people from all sectors and walks of life. The cards are a way to facilitate conversations and help people find a way forward without getting to crisis point. People want to be listened to, first and foremost. To be seen and be validated.”  — CoLab Joint CEO Fiona Carden

The project was a partnership between researchers from the University of Exeter (Catherine Leyshon and Shukru Esmene from the Social Innovation Group‘s HAIRE team and Lorraine Hansford from the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health), CoLab Exeter and Devon Mind, funded through HAIRE and an ESRC Impact Accelerator Account (IAA) award. The IAA helped to translate the main principle of HAIRE’s Guided Conversation tool into a resource that suited CoLab Exeter’s working culture and the individuals who use their wellbeing hub. The principle here being the use of meaningfully co-designed visuals to facilitate wellbeing-related conversations.

“Seeing the Guided Conversation transform into the Talking Deck has been an incredibly exciting and rewarding process. Transferring our tools into new settings to help different groups and organisations always depends on successful co-design. We have worked alongside staff from CoLab and people with lived experience to produce something that can genuinely help people to have more in-depth, productive conversations about their needs, aspirations, hopes and fears.” — University of Exeter researcher Professor Catherine Leyshon

CoLab Exeter’s wellbeing hub hosts around 30 voluntary sector and statutory organisations who support people in Exeter with experiences of homelessness, addiction, the criminal justice system, the care system and domestic abuse. Over a series of workshops, staff, volunteers, researchers and people with lived experiences came together to co-design the Talking Deck pack. The packs are currently being trialled by staff and volunteers at CoLab and in other organisations, for example Julian House have experimented with using the Talking Deck in key worker support sessions with young adults in supported accommodation. So far, feedback from users of the Talking Deck has focused on how the cards help facilitate conversations that are led by the individual, rather than the staff member.

“It’s been really exciting to hear people’s reactions to the new cards. Support workers who have tried them out reported back that they were surprised how well such a simple tool opened up conversations, and helped people to talk about things that were important to them that they hadn’t raised before.” — University of Exeter researcher Lorraine Hansford

Workers commented that using the cards had given them more insight into people’s interests and concerns, and ‘opened different doors’ for people to talk about what is important to them, with issues sometimes emerging that would not necessarily come up in standard assessments used by the organisations:

“I was sceptical at first… I was quite surprised at how it was more powerful than I thought.”

“It’s another way of communicating with people, pictures have a connection to memories. For people who are vulnerable, talking can be intimidating, and it can bypass that in a gentle way.”

There is still work to be done, as the project does not intend to be prescriptive about how the resource is used. Ways of using the cards need to consider how some individuals may find engaging with the entire Talking Deck overwhelming and/or feel unsure about where to start. Continued exchanges between organisations that use the cards will be valuable in promoting the flexibility of the resource and in sharing new practices. Importantly, a Mental Health Alliance, including CoLab Exeter and Devon Mind, can potentially provide a platform for practice-led exchanges and skills sharing to take place. The Talking Deck’s launch will engage members of the Mental Health Alliance in scoping the coordination of such a platform.

Overall, the Talking Deck can be used informally in different settings to help guide conversations. The cards predominantly intend to give people choice about the topics that they wish to discuss, whilst helping to start conversations that may be difficult for people to raise.

After collating a last round of feedback, the finalised Talking Deck was launched at an event at CoLab Exeter on 3rd May 2022.

For more information, contact: Professor Catherine Leyshon (c.brace@exeter.ac.uk) or Lorraine Hansford ().

Picture of collaborators from MIND, CoLab and the University of Exeter

Left to Right: Tom Cox (Devon MIND), Fiona Carden (CoLab), Lorraine Hansford and Catherine Leyshon (University of Exeter)

 

 

Kate’s Grand Tour, Part 2 of 4: Arriving in Laakdal, Belgium

Professor Catherine (Kate) Leyshon, our Principal Investigator, was able to travel for the first time since our project launch in early 2020. She referred to her trip as the “Grand Tour”! We asked her to write about her journey to East Sussex and subsequent visit to Laakdal in Belgium, and give us a writerly flavour of what those places look and feel like, since we’ve been unable to visit. Here’s part two: her first glimpse of Laakdal. More to follow!

I arrive on the Eurostar in Brussels and pick up a hire car for the drive to Diest, the town where I am staying about 25 minutes away from the municipality of Laakdal, in the province of Antwerp. The municipality comprises the towns of Eindhout, Veerle, Vorst, Varendonk and Vorst-Meerlaar, all of which are involved with HAIRE. Diest is a pretty, well-kept town with narrow cobbled streets and new buildings tastefully blended into its historic town-centre. I take a walk up through a leafy park and back through the town square, lined with canopied restaurants where diners are enjoying the warm spring evening.

The next day, I drive to Vorst in Laakdal. Initially my car’s sat nav wants to take me to Vorst near Brussels but I realise this is in completely the wrong direction! I drive out of Diest and I’m quickly into the flat, farmed landscape of this part of Belgium. The road is straight and quiet. As I reach Vorst, I notice how quiet and tidy it is. We are meeting in the fantastic Gemeentehuis. Recently constructed and serving the whole municipality, it contains the library, a post office, meeting rooms, the only bank machine in town and some local council functions.

I meet four volunteers who have some fascinating insights into their experience of using the HAIRE toolkit. They are very generous with their knowledge, and – with a retired Alderman amongst their number – we have an in-depth discussion about new models of service design and delivery. The issues in this part of rural Belgium are familiar across the project: people growing older sometimes become less confident and stop going out as much. They become isolated and suffer some consequences to their overall wellbeing. The Guided Conversation has helped to reconnect them to the community. The partners are especially looking forward to taking ownership of a new minibus; transport here is very limited – it’s no surprise that getting around is a problem in all our pilot sites.

New Perspectives on Geography and Loneliness: Introduction

Jo Little, Shuks Esmene, Catherine Leyshon and Michael Leyshon, researchers at the University of Exeter, have been working on a new paper about loneliness which we introduce below. It’s one of the key issues for the rural ageing population in our study, and it’s particularly on our minds as we post, as it was recently Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, and loneliness was the theme. For some practical tips on coping with loneliness in later life, the Mental Health Foundation has created a toolkit which you can access here.

Over recent years there has been growing recognition from government, policy makers, academics and the public of the significance of loneliness within contemporary society and with the associated deep and enduring negative consequences for wellbeing and quality of life. For example, a recent study characterises loneliness’s societal impact as follows: “Social isolation and loneliness has been classed as a major public health concern due to its negative physical and mental health implications, and living in a remote or rural area is a prominent contributing risk factor”. Loneliness has been referred to by the UK Minister for Loneliness as one of the greatest challenges of our time.

While the visibility of loneliness has increased substantially, and more understanding exists concerning its links to health, there are still important gaps in current research which we will explain and develop in our paper. We aim to develop critical scholarly understandings of loneliness that go beyond measurable indicators and risk factors (such as living in rural settings and mobility issues). While such indicators and risk factors are important in producing an overview of loneliness’s causes and impacts, loneliness is increasingly seen as not simply an individual problem and an issue that manifests due to a combination of risk factors, but as more inherently social, cultural and relational. As Geographers we are mindful of the difference that space and place make in both conceptual understandings of loneliness and its manifestation as a lived experience.

As we write, we begin with a review of the study of loneliness, summarizing some of the findings of what have been perhaps more traditional attempts to identify and measure experiences of loneliness. This provides an understanding of key trends but acts more as a springboard for the next part of the paper in which we, first, provide an improved conceptual understanding of loneliness as a dynamic part of the human condition, the definition of which derives from a set of cultural expectations as much as a lived experience which is embodied and performed in everyday life. We ask what is the connection between the apparent ‘epidemic’ of loneliness and the human condition in a world characterised by endless connection?

Second, and in a linked point, we call for more work on the multiple, shifting ways in which loneliness forms part of the lived experience. Much research implies a somewhat uncritical view of loneliness as a binary condition of being or not being lonely. This has implications for the sorts of solutions that are provided by governments, charities, communities, and individuals, which sometimes tackle ‘aloneness’ rather than ‘loneliness’. Loneliness has temporal and spatial dimensions, it comes and goes, can be experienced in a crowded place or when alone, has causes that are both identifiable and elusive, is linked to a sense of self and the place of the self in the community and wider society. Ultimately, loneliness should be understood as a profoundly subjective experience. Building on and developing Franklin’s 2009 paper, ‘On Loneliness’, we provide a critical examination of the key ‘taken for granted’ characteristics of loneliness. This will explore how loneliness is felt and experienced in contemporary society – and in particular how it relates to social bonds.

Our paper argues that a focus on space is a critical part of the complex jigsaw of loneliness – not simply that loneliness occurs more in some places than others – rather, that place can be central to the ways in which loneliness ‘sticks’ to identity. To explore these issues, we take as our focus rural spaces and the particular relationship between the constructions and contradictions of rurality and loneliness as part of its lived reality.

Kate’s Grand Tour Part One: A Visit to Rother

Professor Catherine Leyshon, our Principal Investigator, was able to travel for the first time since our project launch in early 2020. She referred to her trip as the “Grand Tour”! We asked her to write about her journey to East Sussex and subsequent visit to Laakdal in Belgium, and give us a writerly flavour of what those places look and feel like, since we’ve been unable to visit. Here’s part one, starting in Rye, East Sussex. More posts to follow!

I arrive at Rye station in afternoon spring sunshine opposite Jempsons, which looks to be a well-stocked grocery store/deli with attractive displays. It’s a short walk to the Ship Inn through the historic redbrick town centre. It’s rush-hour in Rye, with children eagerly getting on the train home from school. The offices of the Bluebird care agency remind me that Rye has an aging population, many of whom suffer from isolation and loneliness. This is why Rye is part of HAIRE, along with the nearby town of Robertsbridge, both in the county of East Sussex.

I turn off the delightfully named Wish Street onto Wish Ward in the direction of a disused factory, a piece of industrial heritage referencing the area’s past. A former bakery, it now houses a pottery. I walk past picturesque redbrick and half shingle houses. The pretty townhouse along a cobbled street with a new Jaguar parked outside tells a story that I’m only too familiar with from Cornwall where the picturesque rural setting can hide great disparities in wealth. Mermaid Street, with its ancient, rounded cobbles, opens up to my left. The Ship Inn – my destination after 7 hours traveling from Cornwall, sits in an attractive riverside location. After dumping my bags, I go for a run along a levee between the river and a nature reserve. It’s a lovely part of the world – startlingly flat compared to Cornwall.

The next day, I meet four volunteers from HAIRE and the team from East Sussex County Council, Rother Voluntary Action, and Lorna Ford, the new Deptuty CEO from Rother District Council. We all feel thrilled to be able to meet up after two years on Teams. In that time, 16 volunteers have been recruited and trained, 76 Guided Conversations have been held and more than 200 hours of information about health and wellbeing have been used in the research analysis. Key themes prioritised through the innovation process are loneliness, accessing information, life transitions, and staying active.

We have a great meeting, discussing the volunteer experience of using the HAIRE toolkit – especially the Guided Conversation – and the legacy of HAIRE which will be felt through the pilot projects in Age Friendly Rother, now officially a part of the World Health Organisation’s Age Friendly Community programme.

The eight domains of Age Friendly Communities are illustrated. They are: Communication and Information, Community and Healthcare, Transportation, Housing, Civic Participation and Employment, Outdoor Spaces and Buildings, and Respect and Social Inclusion. 

Above: the eight domains are Communication and Information, Community and Healthcare, Transportation, Housing, Civic Participation and Employment, Outdoor Spaces and Buildings, and Respect and Social Inclusion. 

 

 

A systematic review on the impact of social networks on loneliness among older people in rural areas

As part of the HAIRE project, the University of Plymouth is undertaking a systematic review on the impact of social networks on loneliness among older people living in rural areas. In this month’s blog, Basharat Hussain and Mahrukh Mirza, from the University of Plymouth, explain the process and findings to date.

Healthcare related decisions are critical and therefore need to be based on high quality scientific evidence. The scientific evidence on a topic is generated through individual studies. However, evidence from a single study may not offer confidence to policy makers and practitioners to change an existing practice or adopt a new intervention. This requires an acceptable method to pool all the relevant evidence on a topic and to make the information accessible to busy policy makers and practitioners.

Systematic review is a well-recognised method of identifying, evaluating and summarising evidence from all relevant individual studies, thereby making the available evidence readily accessible to decisionmakers. In a systematic review, all studies published on a topic (in our case, healthy ageing) are searched through online bibliographic databases (e.g., MEDLINE). The online searching of databases is undertaken using a comprehensive, reproducible, and predefined search strategy. This search can result in few hundreds to thousands of studies published on the topic globally or a geographical region of interest (e.g., Europe). The searched studies are screened using strict and narrow inclusion and exclusion criteria. These criteria can consist of research participants (e.g., age over 60 years), setting (e.g., rural areas) and phenomenon of interest (e.g., impact of social network on loneliness). All studies meeting the inclusion criteria are thoroughly read, quality assessed, and their findings synthesised. The final product is a summary of findings on a topic of interest and identification of any gaps for further research in that area.

Image Source: https://libguides.library.curtin.edu.au/systematic-reviews

The review started in January 2022 and will be completed by April 2022. A comprehensive search strategy has been developed to search five main healthcare related databases on the topic. The search has identified over 38,000 published studies on the topic globally, starting from 1954 to January 2022. Screening of the published studies is underway. An interesting finding struck during the screening process is an acute lack of research on social networks and loneliness among older people in rural areas of Europe.

The findings from this review will be helpful not only for the HAIRE project, but also for policy makers, practitioners and researchers who have an interest in the topic. If you are interested in knowing more about this systematic review or would like to have copy once the findings are published, please get in touch with Dr Basharat Hussain, Research Fellow in Health Innovation, University of Plymouth (Basharat.hussain@plymouth.ac.uk), OR Dr Mahrukh Mirza, Lecturer in Clinical Education, University of Plymouth (Mahrukh.mirza@plymouth.ac.uk).