Health officials have warned that the growing threat of loneliness is blighting every section of society as they look towards expanding a £1m scheme across Calderdale.
Staying Well in Calderdale was launched in 2014 as a pilot project in partnership between Calderdale Council, Calderdale Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and the voluntary sector.
The initiative was due to finish after 12 months but through re-allocating the original funding, and additional support from Vanguard, it will continue until March 2017.
Analysis by the University of Lincoln revealed the first findings of the scheme and was discussed at the Council’s Health and Well Board as officials secured funding to carry on the work.
The Staying Well initiative will now look to expand into Brighouse, Sowerby Bridge and Todmorden.
The director of public health at Calderdale Council, Paul Butcher, said they have only just begun to scratch the surface of tackling social isolation and loneliness.
“We have an ageing population and there are many issues linked to that including loneliness and social isolation which is a cause for concern.
“The findings have been quite encouraging and we have seen that the quality of life has improved in people who have been referred as a result of the project.
“We now know what works well in our hubs so it is now integrating that plan into other areas and expanding on what we have already done.”
The Staying Well project’s objective was to combat loneliness and social isolation amongst older people through working with established community organisations and health and social care partners.
Four hubs were initially set up in Hebden Bridge, North Halifax, Elland and West Halifax.
The Council estimated that 11,520 people aged over 65 lived alone in Calderdale and that about 30% felt lonely, with another 12 per cent feeling trapped in their own home.
Research found that loneliness can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Since the start of Staying Well loneliness fell – people reported feeling less lonely than before the start of the programme.
People aged 59 and under reported an improvement in their health-related quality of life of over two-thirds (70%).
A total of 63 existing community groups were supported and 36 new groups have been established.
“There is a stigma attached to loneliness and people are surprised that there is help out there,” added Mr Butcher.
“It is also about communities being mindful about loneliness by checking and supporting their neighbours. We saw after the Boxing Day floods that there are people out there who want to help and the Staying Well project is the opportunity to get people in touch with others.”