The spread of loneliness throughout the pandemic

By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead

Loneliness has always been with us in some form or another, and we all feel lonely at some time in our lives.

But during COVID, it has had the potential to become a Pandemic all of its own – with people forced to stay in their own homes for months at a time often cut off entirely from the outside world.

Before the first lockdown, we knew of thousands of lonely and isolated people, but we learned of many more through calls to the Torbay Community Helpline.

The causes of loneliness are numerous – both complex and simple, but it will affect all our lives at some stage in varying degrees regardless of age, regardless of background.

We are not all social animals. Some struggle to make lasting and meaningful relationships even within their own families, leaving them isolated and alone whilst the world busies itself around them.

Others sail through life until something tragic happens – the loss of a partner or loved one and suddenly the walls start closing in around them. For some reason, in our society an unmerited stigma has grown up around the very word loneliness, making it a difficult subject to broach.

Whether or not loneliness is a problem is not in doubt. It can mar every aspect of our lives and is both a public concern and say campaigners a key sign of a society in need of change.

Through our work with the Ageing Well Torbay programme, we know how debilitating loneliness and isolation can be, often leading to depression, impaired health, and increased numbers of visits to GP’s.

By working to tackle the causes of loneliness the Ageing Well programme has considerably reduced the number of visits to GP’s and hospitals, saving millions of pounds for the NHS and, more to the point, making people happier.

Norman McNamara, founder of the Purple Angel campaign in Torbay was absolutely right when he noted recently: “If I had my way I would class loneliness as an illness and prescribe friendship on every medical note.”

Many GP’s in the Bay now use social prescribing referring patients to our colleagues at AgeUK Torbay whose Wellbeing Coordinators work closely with our Community Builders to help people get back into socialising in the community.

Oddly there are many myths and stigmas surrounding loneliness that fly in the face of the facts:

  • Loneliness may be associated with older people but young people aged 16-24 are now the most likely group to feel lonely
  • Nearly 60% of people over the age of 85 live alone, two-fifths of older people say television is their main form of company and over half a million older people go five or six days a week without speaking to anyone at all.
  • In England, 45% of adults or twenty-five million people occasionally, sometimes or often feel lonely [Campaign to End Loneliness]

During COVID, research has shown that we were nicer to each other and more likely to engage in random acts of kindness, particularly here in Torbay, where neighbours looked out for each other.

And there is no need for that to change as we return to busier, more outward-looking lives. We can still pause for a chat in the street, knock on a neighbour’s door or pick up the phone to make sure someone is OK.

The Marmalade Trust that is leading on Loneliness Awareness Week have the following top tips:

  1. Smile and say hello to people
  2. Stop for a chat
  3. Find commonalties – i.e. the weather
  4. Hold the door open for others
  5. Be interested in other people
  6. Help someone out – help the person with a pushchair up four flights of stairs
  7. Tip your hat (even if it’s imaginary!)

Our Community Builders are also on hand to help put you in touch with others and introduce you to a range of social groups and there are lots you could get involved in.

You could join Torbay Together to sign up to help others and there is also a website that has proved popular in recent months (in my area of Brixham, 16% of the population are signed up to it.)

But whatever you do, do something about it. So pick up the phone and call one of our Community Builders, email us at or call into our Drop-in centre at 4-8 Temperance Street, Torquay TQ2 5PU (formerly the Torbay Community Development Trust office, behind McDonald’s on Union Street/next to Lower Union Lane car park).

Whichever you choose, you are assured of a warm welcome.

You don’t have to be alone.