Saturday 26 November 2022 10:08 PM Being lonely for 3m Britons is as bad as heart disease. But our guide proves ... trends now

Saturday 26 November 2022 10:08 PM Being lonely for 3m Britons is as bad as heart disease. But our guide proves ... trends now
Saturday 26 November 2022 10:08 PM Being lonely for 3m Britons is as bad as heart disease. But our guide proves ... trends now

Saturday 26 November 2022 10:08 PM Being lonely for 3m Britons is as bad as heart disease. But our guide proves ... trends now

The widower who found love in an ethics discussion group. The man who got over grief and a relationship breakdown by joining a club that nurtured his passion for playing the guitar. And the women who found lifelong friendship wild swimming with strangers.

As diverse as they are, all of these people have one thing in common: until a few years ago they were desperately lonely but took the plunge to join new activities that would connect them with others and boost their health.

Thousands are doing it, via social-media platforms or websites such as Meetup, in a bid to tackle a curse that affects growing numbers of Britons. Loneliness – the feeling we get when our need for human contact and relationships is unmet – is reaching epidemic proportions.

The number of people who report feeling chronically lonely has increased by 25 per cent since the pandemic. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics suggests 3.3 million adults – one in 17 – feel lonely nearly all the time, compared with 2.6 million in early 2020.

It affects all ages and all circumstances. Some have lost loved ones or are elderly and living alone, isolated from their families and communities.

But teenagers, surprisingly, are some of the worst affected, despite being surrounded by their peers at school and glued to smartphones that connect them to anyone at the touch of a button. In fact, research suggests – paradoxically – that they have become more lonely since mobile use became widespread.

And those in mid-life, busy with jobs, children and friends, can also be lonely.

Classically trained percussionist and folk enthusiast Ruairí Glasheen, right with one of his group's members, was four when he first picked up a bodhran and was instantly hooked

Classically trained percussionist and folk enthusiast Ruairí Glasheen, right with one of his group's members, was four when he first picked up a bodhran and was instantly hooked

Working from home, shopping online and living further from families have all affected the number of genuine connections we make in a day. It doesn't take a scientist to tell you that this can have a negative impact on your health.

Feeling disconnected and alone, whatever your circumstances, can be as bad for you as chronic health conditions, according to the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP). It has been associated with depression, anxiety, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and dementia and, overall, increases the risk of early death by 50 per cent compared with people who have good social connections.

That makes loneliness as bad for your health as obesity, the RCGP points out.

But while it can feel like an insurmountable problem, it doesn't have to be.

Experts say the best way to begin is by building connections back into your daily life. That might mean something as simple as shopping locally and using a manned till rather than a self-service checkout, or taking a regular walk in a local park so you begin to see the same faces.

Robin Hewings, from the Campaign To End Loneliness, says: 'It's not a miracle cure, but these things can really start to make a difference.'

But there's more: across the country, community groups and initiatives are bringing people together, often in surprising ways.

CONNECTION: Aura Enache, far left, and Stephanie Dunleavy met on an Alpha Course

CONNECTION: Aura Enache, far left, and Stephanie Dunleavy met on an Alpha Course

From drumming circles to ukulele bands, hiking to horse-hugging, choirs to Christian discussions, there are groups to cater to every interest and passion.

All are a great and healthy way to get out and meet like-minded people. Often they are cheap or free to join. Joining one might feel daunting – but most people there will have been in the same boat.

Over these pages The Mail on Sunday has selected just a few to inspire you. There are thousands more online, on Facebook or MeetUp.com, or those run by the University of the Third Age, which has branches everywhere.

We've also teamed up with Age UK in its drive to find 1,000 volunteers for its pioneering Telephone Friendship Service – an initiative that aims to alleviate the loneliness felt by older people. Recruits are asked to commit to giving a lonely older person at least one 20- to 30-minute phone call every week for a year.

And by signing up to any one of these groups, or the many thousands of others out there, you too could be one of those reaping the benefits – not just for your social life, but for your health.

I had no friends, I was in a dark place. Joining a guitar group saved my life

Groups for music lovers

Whether you're playing it, dancing to it or simply listening to it, music has been found to boost levels of endorphins – happy hormones – released by the brain, as well as improve heart rate, focus, self-esteem and even the immune system.

You needn't have experience: from choirs to guitar groups and drumming workshops, all of them welcome absolute beginners.

Voice like a rusty Hinge? you're welcome at this choir

What is it?

Tuneless Choirs can be found across the country and are for those who love singing but lack the ability – or confidence – to do it in front of others.

Tell me more

All-comers are welcome, but particularly anyone 'with a voice like a rusty hinge'. There are no auditions, no rehearsals or performances – basically 'no pressure and no judgment', according to Angela Knapp, 69, who runs the Oxford branch.

Choirs are held weekly and sessions last about an hour. Angela adds: 'We all get things wrong, and we all laugh.'

The songbook ranges from The Beatles and Nancy Sinatra to Abba, Queen and Oasis.

Nottingham member Helen Cook adds: 'We have people with spinal-cord injuries and people with dementia. Two of us have had breast cancer. There's all sorts going on for people, but we all come together and we all sing and we have a lot of fun.'

Sign me up!

Visit tunelesschoir.com and search for your local group – there are more than 30, and even a virtual one on Zoom. The first session costs £10, then it's £8 a session or £36 for six.

Our fun way to drum up new experiences

What is it?

Bodhran Explorers, drumming workshops for the Irish bodhran – a circular hand-held drum that forms the backbone of traditional Irish music – which meet regularly at the London Irish Centre, Camden, with one-off events nationwide.

Tell me more

Classically trained percussionist and folk enthusiast Ruairí Glasheen, above right with one of his group's members, was four when he first picked up a bodhran and was instantly hooked.

Now, as well as playing in a variety of ensembles, the Royal College of Music graduate runs weekly workshops for bodhran beginners.

Participants discover the history of the instrument and learn a range of technical skills. 'People come to learn an instrument, but they stay for the community and the fun and the shared experience,' says Ruairí. 'Maybe you've never played before, maybe you were put off music as a child after being scolded for being too loud, or too terrible – this is about making it fun again and not worrying about making mistakes.'

The group is as energetic as it is diverse, with everyone from music students to pensioners taking part.

'We love it,' says Maggie Boucher, 77, who lives on her own in London. 'There's a lady who was a librarian for 30 years, another who's a professional singer. But we're all secret performers, really.'

Ruairí adds: 'I've realised it's therapeutic for some people. It's an opportunity to disengage with some of the more challenging things we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.'

Sign me up!

Workshops are £15 to attend. Visit ruairiglasheen.net/beginnerbodhran.

 

Advertisement

THE HEALING POWER OF HAVING A ROCKING GOOD TIME

What is it?

Manchester, Didsbury and Oldham Guitar Group, where music-lovers meet in the organiser's living room to rock out on the guitar. Beginners are welcome and instruments are provided.

Tell me more

On Tuesday evenings, Suborno Ghosh welcomes members into his house. 'People are going through a lot in their lives – job losses, divorces – and they get two hours to just forget about that and make music. It's like therapy,' says Ghosh, a careers and life coach.

One fan is 43-year-old Dave Beckett, who says the group has transformed his life.

Earlier this year Dave, who lives in Oldham, was at his lowest ebb. In just 12 months he had lost his business, split from his partner and lost his father. He says: 'I was in a dark place. I had no friends, no life at all.'

Dave joined the guitar group on a whim. 'The last time I performed, for a music exam, I had so much stage fright I passed out four times,' he says. 'But the group made me feel so relaxed and comfortable that I was able to forget about everything else and just focus on something I loved doing – playing the guitar.'

Sign me up!

Visit meetup.com/manchester-didsbury-oldham-guitargroup.

A CHANCE TO REALLY GET BACK IN THE SWING

What is it?

The Bristol University of the Third Age Band brings together retirees for swing music sessions. Events run fortnightly on Tuesday mornings at Factory Studios on Maze Street.

Tell me more

With a guiding hand from experienced musicians, this amateur swing band is open to anyone who has ever played a musical instrument. Alan Nye, 77, from Bristol, was a keen guitarist and singer in his youth. About six years ago, thanks to the group, he picked up an instrument for the first time in 40 years.

Today, he is a skilled player of the cajon – a Peruvian drum.

'When I joined, I was living on my own and wanted a reason to get out of the house,' says Alan, whose wife died 19 years ago.

'I realised I had time to pursue music again after being distracted by kids and mortgages and work.'

Seven years ago, attending another group on ethics, he met his new partner, 74-year-old Alexandra Pickford, a former ballet dancer.

The couple have just bought a house together.

'Meeting Alex has been transformative,' Alan says. 'I've met all sorts of other people as well, so loneliness is not on my agenda at the moment.'

Sign me up!

Visit u3a.org.uk/join or email [email protected] Membership varies by location, but costs between £15 and £20 a year – which gives unlimited access to all local groups.

HOW YOU CAN JAZZ UP YOUR SOCIAL LIFE 

What is it?

Live Music & Socialising organises group trips to music events in and around Cardiff.

Tell me more

From the Belgian National Orchestra to Sunday jazz sessions, this meetup.com page shares information on upcoming gigs. There's also a monthly social event to discuss future gigs. 'People are sometimes reluctant to meet strangers,' says one of the organisers, 41-year-old engineer Henrique Vilhena. 'But music is a powerful way to connect.'

Sign me up!

Visit meetup.com/live-music-bantz-south-wales.

My search for God found me a soulmate

What is it?

Alpha Course discussion groups exploring the Christian faith are available at more than 7,000 churches, as well as virtually on Zoom. They're open to anyone, regardless of beliefs.

Tell me more

The meetings 'give people a chance to ask the big questions of life and explore the Christian faith in a fun, non-pressurised environment,' according to the Alpha Course website.

But for Stephanie Dunleavy, 34, it also offered friendship. 'The group had someone who was a Buddhist, and another who identified as atheist,' says the Brighton-based mother-of-two, who runs jewellery business Soul Analyse.

'It's a really nice chance to gain connections again with different people and have a conversation that isn't about work or stress, but life's deeper meanings.'

Stephanie met Aura Enache, 40, on the course and they shared a room together on a weekend Alpha Course retreat in Eastbourne where they enjoyed early-morning swims in the sea.

'It was lovely. I don't think I'll ever forget it. I've definitely gained a friend in Aura.'

Sign me up!

Alpha Course events are free to attend. To find your nearest, visit alpha.org.uk.

Advertisement

LEARN TO PLAY LADY GAGA ON THE UKULELE 

What is it?

Belfast Ukulele Jam, where you can learn to play the instrument or just listen. Beginners and experienced players meet on Wednesday evenings in the Deer's Head pub.

Tell me more

Bring your own ukulele, if you want lessons in how to play it. Otherwise feel free to sit and listen to the rest of the group learn the chords for songs by Johnny Cash, Lady Gaga, Queen or The Beatles.

For single mum-of-two Frances Mulvenna, 37, it's been instrumental, too, for her social life. 'I've got such a big circle of friends through this,' Frances says. 'We love inviting each other to dinner parties and we all bring our ukuleles along to play together after eating.'

Sign me up!

facebook.com/belfastukejam or email [email protected].

Research shows religious involvement and spirituality are linked to positive health outcomes, including greater longevity, better coping skills, and quality of life – even during terminal illness – and less anxiety and depression. These groups should help you find meaning and companionship too.

SUPPORT FOR CHRISTIAN MUMS AND THEIR BABIES

What is it?

Baby Life Group, a weekly meeting of Christian mums and their young children organised by the Christian Life Church in Shipley, West Yorkshire.

Tell me more

While there is a scriptural element to the meetings, with videos and discussion, it's the children who often take centre stage.

And what has emerged from this is a real solidarity.

It's 'a beautiful community',

read more from dailymail.....

NEXT Only half of Brits are confident they could perform CPR trends now