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Connected Recovery: Benches to Battle Loneliness

“Friendship Benches” set to appear in London, could help thwart growing concerns over disconnected communities, loneliness and mental health.

The initiative aimed at giving Londoners the chance to tell their story, will give lonely Londoners the opportunity to speak with a trained health volunteer, besides tube stations, cafes and shops.

Dr Dixon Chabanda,  Associate Professor of Global Mental Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, founded the innovative programme in Zimbabwe where he found the approach improved the symptoms of patients with mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.

With £200,000 investment from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, the pair hope to mirror this success in London.

“Thanks to the generosity of MacKenzie Scott, combined with our work with the WHO, we now have a real opportunity to scale up and help realise the potential of this innovation for the huge number of people who need it.”

Dr Dixon Chibanda, Associate Professor of Global Mental Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Since the Friendship Bench initiative began, it has been rolled out to other parts of the world including New York, Vietnam and Jordan.

Post-pandemic Loneliness

A recent British Red Cross opinion poll showed that a quarter of UK adults are feeling more isolated than ever before. Whilst two fifths (38%) of UK adults think the pandemic has had a lasting impact on their social connections. Loneliness in the UK is not a new phenomenon, but the pandemic has highlighted the issue unlike ever before.

This innovative programme comes months after the relaunch of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Tackling Loneliness and Connected Communities. Co-chaired by Tracey Crouch MP who was the world’s first ever Loneliness Minister in 2017 and Kim Leadbeater, Labour MP who urges the government to put loneliness on the agenda the APPG has recently widened its scope to include community connection as well.

The APPG launched an independent enquiry report calling for a ‘connected recovery’ through recommendations to aid communities in recovering from the Covid-19 Pandemic in the long-term.

One of the key findings focused on barriers preventing people from connecting. The friendship bench is a great step in tackling the fragmented community post-pandemic. The British Red Cross Poll also found that a third (33%) of respondents felt the pandemic had brought out the best in their community. Dr Dixon Chibanda’s innovation could surely bring out the best once again.

Kim Leadbeater MP, co-chair for the APPG for Tackling Loneliness and Connected Communities.

Photo Credit: Centre for Global Mental Health

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