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Brighton And Hove Charity Tackling Loneliness Wins Top UK Health Award

Brighton and Hove charity Together Co has won a major national award for its work to reduce the devastating impact of loneliness and isolation on people's mental and physical health.

Following a rigorous selection and assessment process, Together Co was chosen from more than 500 charities across the UK as one of the 10 winners of the 2024 GSK IMPACT Awards which are delivered in partnership with The King’s Fund. Now in its 27th year, the awards are a mark of excellence in the charity sector, designed to recognise the outstanding work of small and medium-sized charities working to improve people’s health and wellbeing in the UK.

Together Co was established in 2000 and works in Brighton and Hove to help adults experiencing loneliness and isolation to make social connections. As an award winner, Together Co will now receive £40,000 in unrestricted funding, as well as expert support and leadership development provided by leading health and care charity The King’s Fund. 

In 2022, a survey by the Office for National Statistics found that 22,000 people living in Brighton and Hove said they often or always felt lonely. The impact of loneliness is well-documented and includes leaving people at greater risk of poorer mental and physical health. Research has found that the health risks of prolonged isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and there is a 29% increase in the risk of death for those who are lonely or socially isolated.

More than 80% of the people Together Co supports live alone, more than half have long term physical or mental health needs, and seven in 10 report that loneliness is the most challenging aspect of their lives.

The award win comes at a time when the triple threat of rising costs, falling income and increased demand continues to put local charities and their finances under extreme pressure.

There has been a significant growth in demand for Together Co’s support over the past two years, with the charity finding that many people have needed support to regain confidence to leave the house and re-establish social connection after a prolonged period of isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic. With the support of 500 volunteers annually, the charity now helps around 1,800 people a year across the city through its key services offering social prescribing and befriending.

Social prescribing is an approach that sees a wide range of organisations and health care professionals, such as GPs, referring people to a range of local non-clinical services to support their mental, physical health and social health. In the last year, Together Co have supported 1,400 people, and completed over 3,000 onwards referrals to 325 different agencies, connecting people to what matters to them.

The award judges praised the charity’s work building strong connections with local NHS organisations, GP surgeries and voluntary sector partners to deliver the city-wide provision of social prescribing for the past decade. By training a network of Social Prescribing Champions, the charity has increased access to its services and leads a successful partnership to address health inequalities through tailored social prescribing for people who are marginalised or face barriers to accessing help.

The judges commended Together Co for its Befriending Service which matches volunteers with people who are experiencing loneliness. Most befrienders visit people in their own homes, but many also go out for café visits. Together Co also provides befriending social groups across three locations in the city. In the year ending March 2023, 444 individuals were supported through befriending.

Additionally, Together Co’s Connector Project offers people short-term support via a trained volunteer to go with them to a group, service or activity, or to achieve a specific goal. The judging panel were impressed by Together Co’s reach into a diverse range of different local communities, including LGBTQ+ and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, which it has achieved by partnering with other local voluntary organisations. The charity also works in partnership to support Ukrainian newcomers through social prescribing.

Data collected by the charity showed 93% of its active users felt less lonely, 90% reported improvements in mood and 74% felt more connected with the local community.

Lisa Weaks, Senior Associate at The King’s Fund, said:

“Loneliness can have an incredibly damaging impact on people’s mental and physical health. Together Co is an exemplary charity and a highly influential voice in the local health and care system.

"It has been a trailblazer in Brighton and Hove for the life-changing benefits of social prescribing, where health care professionals refer to a range of non-clinical services to support mental and physical health, helping people most at risk of the detrimental effects of social isolation.

"The charity is strongly connected to its community through the people it supports and its impressive number of volunteers, allowing it to continue to innovate in response to local need and meet significantly growing demand for its services.” 

Commenting on the award, April Baker, CEO of Together Co, said: 

"We are deeply honoured to receive a 2024 GSK IMPACT Award, recognising Together Co's commitment to improving local people’s social health by reducing loneliness and isolation in Brighton and Hove.

"This accolade is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our team, volunteers and partners who strive daily to connect and support our community. The judges' commendations reinforce the importance of our varied services of social prescribing, befriending and connector programmes, highlighting our innovative approach to addressing the critical issue of loneliness and social isolation.

"This recognition not only celebrates our achievements but also propels us forward, inspiring us to continue our vital work and expand our impact. We are grateful for this support and look forward to utilising the development programme the award offers to further our mission, making a significant difference in the lives of those we serve."

Developing leaders in the charity sector is a key aim of the GSK IMPACT Awards programme and all winners are invited to build on their success and take part in a tailored leadership development programme run by The King’s Fund.

 

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