As my website article ‘Fragmented Communities’ makes clear, our communities are in trouble. Fixing them is an urgent priority. Too many lives are blighted by prejudice, discrimination, intolerance, violence and anti-social behaviour. Perhaps receiving less media attention but no less socially destructive is the impact of loneliness, isolation and separation. We have a loneliness epidemic.
Social isolation is a reality in every neighbourhood. It affects the young and the old alike, as well as everyone in between. The Jo Cox Commission claimed that loneliness “is as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and affects nine million UK people.”
The demographics don’t help. As the number of older people increases, so does the number of people living alone following the death of a partner. More than two million people in England over the age of 75 now live alone.
Being alone does not necessarily mean loneliness, of course. However, as the Jo Cox Commission makes clear, loneliness is an urgent problem for many, one amplified by the Covid pandemic. In November the BBC reported that more than four million people were “always or often lonely”.
The solution is neither quick nor easy, but — as I argued in a recent post — any long-term strategy to build stronger communities must involve looking at what we are teaching children in school. Today, more than ever, we need to raise the profile of community education, contributing to the work of repairing what is broken and building stronger communities in the longer term.
There is much good practice already taking place. In many areas, schools are the beating heart of the local community. We need to go further, using the curriculum to educate children in how to contribute positively to their community, as well as promoting community values of trust, respect and interdependence.
For example, we could adopt a more systematic approach to developing links between schools and those who are at greatest risk of isolation and loneliness, something that is surely more practicable that ever in this age of digital interconnectedness.
The Forum for Life-Based Learning advocates the introduction of a life-based curriculum for primary-school children, with ‘Community’ as one of nine equal themes through which all subject learning can be delivered.
Image at the head of this article by Sabine van Erp from Pixabay