Minister appointed to combat loneliness: what role can pubs play?

By Stuart Stone contact

- Last updated on GMT

New role: the Government has appointed its first 'minister for loneliness' to continue the late MP Jo Cox's work
New role: the Government has appointed its first 'minister for loneliness' to continue the late MP Jo Cox's work
Tracey Crouch MP has been appointed as the Government’s minister for loneliness, in order to continue the work started by the late MP Jo Cox.

In a report published last year, the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, initially set up by Ms Cox, who was murdered in the run-up to the EU referendum, revealed that loneliness was as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

In a statement, Prime Minister Theresa May explained: "Jo Cox recognised the scale of loneliness across the country and dedicated herself to doing all she could to help those affected."

On her appointment to the new position, Crouch stated that she was proud to take on the “generational challenge” to tackle loneliness – an issue that affects around 9m people in the UK, both young and old.

The appointment has been well received by members of the pub industry, who believe they have an important role to play in combating loneliness. 

Pubs aid social engagement

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) head of communications Tom Stainer said: "Enjoying a pint in a pub also has a hugely beneficial impact on a person's wellbeing – especially with regards to combating loneliness.

“This is something that has been backed by research from University of Oxford, which found people who have a 'local' that they visit regularly feel more socially engaged and contented, and are more likely to trust other members of their community.

“Personal wellbeing and happiness have a massive impact not only on individual lives but on communities as a whole, and it is fantastic that this wisdom has been recognised with the appointment of a minister for loneliness.

“We hope that Tracey Crouch takes the valuable role of pubs into account as part of her new remit and help stem the alarming rate of pub closures across the country."

Hub for rural communities

Judith Grifffin, chair of a steering committee aiming to save the White Lion pub in Ash Magna, Shropshire,​ from closing and establish it as the focal point of their rural community said: “Loneliness can affect people at any time or at any age. Those with limited mobility or with no easy access to transport, especially in rural communities, can often be lonely and have little contact with others. There is much evidence of how loneliness can impact on people's mental and physical health.

"The traditional rural pub provides a focus for people to meet, have a drink and maybe something to eat. But, increasingly, pubs have to offer something else that meets the needs of everyone in the community.

"That is why we are campaigning to keep the White Lion open and develop it to be more than a pub that, besides opening for drinks and good food, will be offering a day-time venue for people to meet for coffee and a chat, special groups for young families, the elderly and teenagers and a range of activities that will appeal to different people.” 

Facilitating interaction

Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “Hospitality venues can play an important role in combating loneliness by facilitating interaction between members of communities who normally might not meet one another. Pubs are social spaces, encouraging customers to come face to face and interact with each other in a friendly and inviting environment.

“The ALMR and its members are working on the 'only a pavement away' scheme, in partnership with the charity Crisis, to help provide homeless people with jobs in the sector and help tackle the problem of rough sleeping.

"We recently saw a pub in Wimbledon – the Alexandra​, launch a massive social media campaign to reunite a worker with his lost pay packet and the same pub offered free Christmas dinners to anyone spending Christmas Day alone.”

“Historically, pubs have been the focal point of villages and town centres, places in which communities can gather and relax. This is still the case and the ALMR’s members organise numerous events to encourage members of the public to enjoy themselves in a social environment. Simple things like watching live sports in a communal environment or pub quizzes are great ways to bring customers together.” 

Laura Alcock-Ferguson, executive director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, added: “In order to tackle loneliness, everyone must play their part. From businesses to Government, from charities to individuals – everyone can take action on loneliness.

"Community spaces and businesses, like pubs, can be a vital part of the solution too. We want to see communities bringing people together to connect – and pubs can be a great space to do this in. For example, we know pubs that allow social groups for older people to use their rooms for free, and pubs that host Christmas dinners for people on their own. Pubs can have an important role to play in ending loneliness.”

Providing a lifeline 

Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association also commented: "This is a very welcome appointment, which rightly recognises the issue of loneliness within our communities. I have formally written to the minister congratulating her on the appointment and I certainly look forward to discussing the increasing role pubs can and already do play in combating loneliness. 

"I am pleased the government are acting on the recommendations from the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. The Commission's work will be crucial in co-ordinating action across various sectors to combat loneliness. 

"Whilst our domestic and social lives are changing, pubs do play a vital role in bringing people together, creating a great social network, which can often provide a lifeline."

British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) CEO Mike Clist added:  “The BII believes pubs play a vital part in combatting the growing number of lonely people that are becoming more and more isolated due to our rapidly changing lifestyles.  The way we interact socially has changed dramatically over the last decade.

"Pubs play a unique role in our country as the heart of many communities. They are places to come together with friends and family – to celebrate, commiserate and communicate. 

"As part of the Government’s strategy for tackling loneliness they must take in to account this very important part pubs play.

"To do this they need to give our sector a boost by reducing the tax burden on these small businesses and in particular carrying out the reform they have promised to, regarding the way business rates are calculated in this country.”

Strategic team approach

John Longden, Chief Executive of Pub is The Hub said: “Whilst Pub is The Hub provides assistance for supporting local strategies to combat the loss of services in communities, it also supports national campaigns such as the Jo Cox campaign to reduce loneliness.  We find that loneliness is a significant factor behind many of the ideas tabled by a rising number of communities seeking help. 

“The Office for National Statistics reports the UK is becoming the loneliness capital of Europe, which is both an urgent issue and a direct warning that local needs are not being met. Nine million adults in the UK are said to be affected by feelings of isolation, with 3.5 million people aged 65 living alone in rural areas and half of all people over 75 being alone. 

"These figures are forecast to increase by 40% by 2030 and the nature of both sufferer and condition makes addressing the issue particularly complex. We welcome the appointment of the new ministerial role if it will help to raise awareness of the issue and highlight the role that pubs can play in their communities.

“By taking a strategic team approach with beneficiaries and embracing the expertise provided by partnership working, Pub is The Hub can ensure that interventions are inspiring and that projects are sustainable and focused on identified local needs.  Interest from potential partnership organisations and local authorities has risen significantly throughout the UK, where Pub is The Hub has been able to trial initial advice and solutions in areas recognised as having priorities.  We find that pub diversification projects often progress to provide more services and activities as the community develop more ideas.

"Pub is The Hub has also developed its own systems to monitor outcomes and the resulting data reaffirms the ongoing benefits and need for the programme.  Whole communities have benefited from schemes in terms of social interaction, improved service accessibility and enhanced community.  The activities significantly benefit help residents having difficulty accessing services and amenities outside their local community and at the same time address the needs of the most vulnerable.  This includes the elderly, those alone, without transport or on low incomes and those who suffer from illness or disability, as well as the young."

The Licensed Trade Charity, has established its own programme of support, including a telephone befriending programme​ run by volunteers from pubcos such as Ei Group, Mitchells & Butlers and Punch, for those leaving the trade who feel socially isolated after research found that around 4,400 retired employees of the trade were socially isolated. 

If you would like to find out more about the Licensed Trade Charity's service you can visit their website here,​ call 01344 898550, or email support@ltcharity.org.uk.

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