a close-up of two hands working on an embroidery of a key
Arts & Minds

The arts... provide a recognized way of reducing loneliness and social isolation, particularly among people living in rural or disadvantaged areas (from What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? A scoping review by Daisy Fancourt & Saoirse Finn, 2019)

This page is intended to be a developing resource for those interested in exploring the potential impacts of creativity and culture on loneliness. Please get in touch if you would like us to include materials that we have not yet added below. [latest update: February 2020]

Background: the loneliness epidemic

It is increasingly understood that loneliness is impacting health across the UK (and many of the wealthier nations of the world). The Office of National Statistics Community Life Survey (2016 to 2017) revealed that 5% of adults in England reported feeling lonely “often” or “always”.

The Campaign to End Loneliness lists the following health risks:

  • Loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. (Holt-Lunstad, 2010)
  • Loneliness is worse for you than obesity. (Holt-Lunstad, 2010)
  • Lonely people are more likely to suffer from dementia, heart disease and depression. (Valtorta et al, 2016) (James et al, 2011) (Cacioppo et al, 2006)
  • Loneliness is likely to increase your risk of death by 29% (Holt-Lunstad, 2015)

Research undertaken by Age UK tells us that "Loneliness can be as harmful for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day".

The two groups most vulnerable to loneliness are older people and young people - with young people reportedly loneliest of all. In 2016 Age UK  reported that 1.2 million older people were chronically lonely in the UK. The ONS Community Life Survey found that adults aged 16-24 reported feeling lonely more often than those in older age groups.

In response to the crisis, the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness was published in December 2017, which in turn led to the publication of a Loneliness Strategy by the government in 2018.

What Works for Wellbeing have a comprehensive resource on loneliness, covering definitions, existing evidence, and how to measure. Their 'Tackling Loneliness' publication is based on 364 reviews from 'developed' countries across the world including the UK.


Loneliness, arts and culture

The government's Loneliness Strategy discusses the potential of the arts and culture to address the ongoing crisis of loneliness, affecting particularly young people and older people, and says that

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will work with Arts Council England to address loneliness through its programmes, as well as utilising the loneliness measure in its work. Alongside this, the department will raise awareness of the role that libraries can play, including through Libraries Week.

Fancourt & Finn's 2019 synthesis report for the World Health Organization (Europe) points to some of the key evidence for the arts' impact on loneliness and social inclusion (see p.9 of the report). The key factor is 'social interaction while participating in the arts' (p.9). Fancourt & Finn explain that

Social interaction that brings together different groups of people can improve social capital and reduce discrimination, the latter being linked with mental illness and a range of other health conditions including CVD, respiratory conditions and indicators of illness such as pain and headaches

(It's important to note that loneliness and social exlusion are different, but related, experiences.)

Case studies

National Museums Liverpool’s Happy Older People network initiative was recently shortlisted for the Museums and Heritage Awards for Excellence. The scheme brings together older people, artists, cultural organisations, health and social care providers, housing associations, community groups, transport providers, and volunteering organisations to try to tackle loneliness and isolation across the city region. You can watch a film about the scheme here: https://happyolderpeople.com/happy-older-people-the-film/

Equal Arts’ Hen Power scheme is now established in more than 40 care homes across the North East of England. HenPower creatively hengages older people in arts activities and hen-keeping to promote health and wellbeing and reduce loneliness. You can watch short films here: https://equalarts.org.uk/our-work/henpower

Excerpt from Case Studies from the Culture White Paper (March 2016):

Meet Me At the Albany was launched In 2013, with support from Lewisham Council’s Community Directorate, Entelechy Arts and the Albany. Meet Me at the Albany is a creative arts club for the over 60s that asks: What could be possible if the isolated old were supported to attend their local arts centre, instead of a day centre? Meet Me at the Albany is a bold new approach to daycare providing a regular meeting place where participants can become involved in creative workshops, experience performances from leading artists or simply sit back and enjoy the atmosphere, as well as enjoying a home cooked hot meal and beverages for just £6 a day.

Lewisham Council have committed £110,000 per annum for the next three years and are looking to extend the project into different settings such as sheltered local housing. The project is likely be rolled out to other London Boroughs and beyond.

Useful links