Since the release of the new John Lewis advert, loneliness has been in the news quite a lot recently, and rightly so.

Loneliness has been linked to depression, obesity, declining mental health, and even lower life span. In October the Scottish Parliament said loneliness “was as damaging to health as poverty and poor housing”.  The causes of loneliness are complicated, varied and include stuff like income, age, mental health and even where you live; but what everyone agrees on is that by building real social networks and increasing interaction and connections between people the effects of loneliness can be reversed.

At Forever Manchester we support loads of grassroot community organisations across the region, many with very different aims and interests. One thing that all the projects we support do is tackle loneliness. Through funding for luncheon clubs and tea dances for older people, youth projects for the young, sports clubs, support groups, community fun days, craft groups, street parties, activities for the learning disabled, arts projects, and community clean ups the groups we support reach out and connect people in their community, forging friendships and having fun. By helping groups with funding we allow them to remain free or cheap to allow as many people to get involved as possible.

Forever Manchester has adopted an Asset Based Community Development approach, which recognises the importance of human connections for individual people, but also for the wider community and looks to make new connections around people’s shared skills and passions. We’ve applied this perspective to our own FM Cash 4 Growth fund, which encourages applicants to think about ways to connect with even more people in their neighbourhood, as well as asking for positive stories from their group and where they live.

We’re also about to roll out a series of ABCD workshops for community groups. These workshops, which began this month, will aim to give groups some ideas and tools to connect with even more people in their community, but also celebrate the great work they already do.  They will be a chance for us to learn about top local ideas to connect the community even more.

Our Community Builders are working out and about in neighbourhoods across the region putting the ABCD perspective into practice.  They are out actively meeting with local residents, discovering hidden talents and ideas and bringing new people together to start new community activity, as well as connect more people to the wealth of things already happening. Our Community Builders search out those on the margins of community, people who are probably not involved in community life, and discover their passions to try to encourage their ideas and make introductions to likeminded people.

The work we support in communities isn’t about designing a short quick fix solution to loneliness to be imposed on those that are deemed to be lonely, instead it’s about helping and encouraging communities and individuals to create their own opportunities to come together with neighbours, to share their lives in a way that can continue away from the project and for years to come.