Mobile coffee vans and meeting in men's sheds: ministers launch £20m fund for ideas to tackle loneliness

Christopher Hope
Loneliness  minister Tracey Crouch - Geoff Pugh Photography Ltd Telegraph Media Group Ltd

Mobile coffee vans that move between country villages to provide a focus for the elderly to meet up and chat are being backed by ministers in a £20million bid to tackle loneliness.

Other schemes backed by ministers include one that enables middle aged men to meet in sheds and practise woodworking, and an app to help young mothers meet up.

They are also supporting plans to convert redundant public spaces into “loneliness gardens” where people can sit and spend time together.

The ideas are being championed by ministers as examples to encourage charities and other groups to apply for a new National Lottery fund to tackle loneliness.

Ministers are inviting bids for a new Building Connections fund to tackle loneliness from next month ahead of a major strategy launch on loneliness in the Autumn.

Theresa May, the Prime Minister, said the funding for anti-loneliness projects “will make a big difference, helping more people to establish and maintain connections”.

She said: “Feeling lonely or isolated can have a profound and devastating impact on people's lives - it can affect anyone of any age and from any background.

“But just as loneliness can affect any of us, so any of us can help to overcome it.”

Tracey Crouch MP Credit: Geoff Pugh for the Telegraph/Geoff Pugh for the Telegraph

Other ideas backing by ministers include “Gig Buddies” which matches adults with learning difficulties and volunteers who have similar musical interests.

Hundreds of Costa Coffee branches run “Chatty Cafes” where customers can sit and speak to other people.

Ministers said they wanted the cash to allow hundreds of thousands of people to make connections in their communities.

It will also fund projects that use technology to link those in remote areas and help improve transport connections to make face-to-face contact easier.

It will support groups to understand the impact of their work and share best practice about how to prevent loneliness.

Tracey Crouch, the Culture minister who is in charge of developing the policy, told The Daily Telegraph: “This funding will support charities across the country that are fighting against loneliness. It will help improve people's lives and create a shared society for the future.”

Ms Crouch also said that the cash will help to “reduce stigma around loneliness” and build on the legacy of the murdered MP Jo Cox, who campaigned on loneliness before she was killed two years ago.

Dawn Austwick, chief executive of the Big Lottery Fund which will be appealing for bids for the cash, said the money woul “build a greater sense of belonging and happiness in communities”.

Kim Leadbeater, Jo Cox’s sister, on behalf of the Jo Cox Foundation said: “Tackling loneliness was an issue dear to Jo’s heart.

“She would be so proud to see how much progress has been made in recognising the importance of building stronger and better connected communities to help reduce the terrible damage done by loneliness.”