Wealden District Council: tackling loneliness

Wealden District Council has set up a range of initiatives to combat loneliness. It has worked with pubs to run events, held dementia-friendly cinema screenings and adult education courses in community venues, such as village halls and libraries. This case study shows how district councils have improved the health of their local areas.

Wealden District Council has set up a range of initiatives to combat loneliness. It has worked with pubs to run events, held dementia-friendly cinema screenings and adult education courses in community venues, such as village halls and libraries.

Covering over 320 square miles, Wealden is the largest district in East Sussex. It is home to over 160,000 people, half of whom live outside the five main towns in small villages and hamlets.

Like many areas, the population is ageing and there is a particular concern about loneliness – with one in four people living in the area reported to be socially isolated.

This concerns the district council – loneliness is one of the key priorities in the council’s Health and Wellbeing Strategy. Research shows loneliness can increase the risk of premature death by up to a third and is associated with conditions such as depression, sleep problems, dementia and hypertension.

Highlights of progress

A range of different projects has been launched in recent years to address loneliness and social isolation. Much of the work has been led by the council’s community and regeneration team in partnership with others.

For example, over the last two years the council has worked with not-for-profit group ‘Pub is the Hub’ to run a range of events in local pubs in a bid to bring people together.

They have included a scheme in partnership with Barclays Digital Eagles that saw free courses run in pubs to improve the online skills of local people. A theatre production company has also been commissioned to run performances. One pub even got funding from ‘Pub is the Hub’ to create its own small theatre.

Health and Wellbeing Officer David Chennell said: “We chose pubs because often they are the only public buildings in many of our communities as Wealden is a very rural area.

“Pubs have traditionally been the real centres of the communities, although some have begun to struggle. The events have brought people together and had the added benefit of helping the pubs.”

The council has also helped set up the Wealden Dementia Alliance, a network of five local forums in Uckfield, Crowborough, Hailsham, Polegate and Ninfield. A further forum will be launching in Wadhurst in Spring 2019. With help from the council, the forums have established memory cafes and run dementia-friendly film screenings where tea, coffee and cake is provided.

By the end of 2018, 17 dementia friendly screenings had taken place in Hailsham, which has a community cinema, while in another village a projector has been borrowed to set up a cinema in a community hall. This has worked so well that the council is now planning to buy its own projector to allow other villages to follow suit.

A Street Learning project has also been set up in conjunction with a range of partners, including the Adult College for East Sussex. It has seen a host of training opportunities held in local venues, including village halls and libraries. Courses are available to all residents in Wealden and Eastbourne aged over 19. 

Courses vary from maths and English to building self-confidence. There has also been a big emphasis on creating new hobbies, soft skills and arts and crafts, such as flowerarranging and mindfulness courses. Around 350 residents participated in the Street Learning courses in 2018.

The council also supports activities that prevent social isolation through its Community Grants Programme. Since 2006 over £1 million has been awarded to 375 small and capital projects ranging from village hall, sports pavilion and recreational space improvements to lunch clubs, arts festivals and activities for the disabled and young people.

Over the same period, more than £3.8 million in three-year service level agreements has been distributed to 43 organisations offering a wide range of vital services such as debt advice, community transport, protecting the environment and volunteering.

Projects supported this year include older people’s groups in Crowborough and Uckfield, a befriending scheme and a talking news project for blind and partially sighted service users.

Future plans

Over the last year the council has been supporting a social prescribing pilot. This has been run in partnership with Vitality Works and Freedom Leisure, which operates the four local leisure centres on behalf of the council. It is funded by the Eastbourne, Hailsham and Seaford Clinical Commissioning Group.

The Health Coach scheme has seen almost 200 people participate and has worked so well there is now a waiting list for the service.

In early 2019 the project will be expanded to further GP surgeries across Hailsham, the main town in the south of the district.

Patients receive four one-to-one sessions with a health coach at their GP surgery to identify their health and wellbeing goals and put them in contact with the services and support they need to achieve them. This can include everything from local choirs to referrals to organised health walks.

Wellbeing mornings are also offered where patients can get help with anything they need from confidence building to cooking skills. Weekly drop-ins are then available to ensure the patients feel supported in the weeks and months afterwards.

Lessons and key messages

As Wealden is such a rural area, the district council has had to think creatively about finding venues. Mr Chennell said: “That was the thinking behind the pub initiative. But we have also found other venues have been willing to help too.

“One care home has opened its doors to run a memory café, while another has expressed an interest in the film screenings. It benefits the residents of the care homes as well as the people living independently.”

The council has also had to provide transport from local care homes to some of the film screenings in Hailsham – securing funding from the Wealden Strategic Partnership to pay for accessible transport services to collect residents. “Accessibility is the key – there is no point putting things on if people can’t get there,” added Mr Chennell.


David Chennell
Health and Wellbeing Officer
Wealden District Council