Social Isolation – Don’t forget the pub

Report cover

Regular readers of this blog will know that measures to overcome loneliness and social isolation, particularly among older citizens, are a passion of mine. Because of this, I was especially interested to read this recent report from Ambition for Ageing, Greater Manchester’s Ageing Better partnership, on “how shared spaces make communities work”. It is a good report, well worth reading, but I was staggered to find that it contained only one reference to pubs, and that only at the end of a list of potential shared spaces. Now I don’t know the reason for this omission. And, before you start, yes I know that pubs are not suitable for everyone, and that there are many people who consider pubs to be exclusionary; but, if you are considering shared spaces in communities, then how can you not consider the pub, which is probably the orginal community-based shared space? The word “pub” is a contraction of “public house”. That’s what the orginal pubs were, somebody opening up their house to the public. Their role only became formalised when governments started to want to regulate the sale of alcohol and it became harder for just anyone to invite people into their home and charge them for a tipple.

So, I know that there are many groups and individuals who are not comfortable in pubs because of the availability of alcohol. And there are lots of issues for lonely and isolated people, even if they don’t object to alcohol being sold which prevent them from going into a pub on their own.

There are two key issues for me here. The first is that many communities have lost the pubs that were their local hubs in recent years. The smoking ban is a prominent reason for this. I reference this as someone who is 100% in favour of the smoking ban, but I am not oblivious to the fact that a lot of pub custom was lost when the ban came in. This coupled with the growth of sales of cheap alcohol from supermarkets changed many people’s socialising habits. Oh, and, in rural areas in particular, tougher drink-driving laws (something else I approve of) have played their part. I would argue that the loss of the local pub is a big blow to a local community. Different pubs are open and welcoming to different degrees, but the good ones are true community hubs.

And that brings me to the second issue. How welcoming are pubs, and what can be done to make them more welcoming? There are some pubs that not only go the extra mile to welcome people in, but they are proactive in developing their role in addressing loneliness and isolation. One such establishment is The Alexandra in Wimbledon. Not only do they have regular open mornings for lonely people with free coffee and sandwiches, but they also offer isolated people free Christmas Dinners as well. And they don’t just do these things, they are very good in how they use social media to promote and celebrate the activity.

I believe that pubs have an important role to play in overcoming social isolation. It is no coincidence that lots of the action in TV Soap Operas takes place in pubs. They are key locations for social interaction. That’s why I want to research which pubs (like the Alexandra) are taking active steps to reach out to and embrace socially isolated people, and how we can help other pubs which are willing to move in that direction to take important steps. So, if you know of a pub which is good at welcoming people, or you are a pub landlord that wants to make your establishment more friendly to isolated people, then please let me know in the comments below, or email me with the details.

I am looking for funding both to research this issue and to work with pubs that want to do more than they currently are.

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It’s now official: Video Chat produces “all the feels”

This is a follow up to my post about the potential power of Facebook’s Portal to be a force for digital inclusion. I’m still not sure about whether, given Facebook’s track record on privacy, these devices will be welcomed in everyone’s homes, but I do believe that, on the face of it, at least, they do appear to be a game-changer for video conferencing. In fact, I am wondering why I am calling it “video conferencing”. In the context of something like Portal, I reckon that video conferencing sounds like a very corporate, business-like term, whereas Portal, as the advertising for it makes clear, is about bringing people together. It’s about joy and sharing. For years, I have advocated greater use of video chat to bring people together and reduce loneliness and isolation, and I have met resistance from people who have told me that such mechanisms are impersonal. But the Portal advertising, which features The Muppets, is clearly focused on emotion, empathy, love and friendship. And I was prompted to write this piece by seeing an advert for Vodafone’s new 5G service, which, again, focused on the emotional impact of connecting people via video. Here it is:

This advert focuses on Grandparents telling their grandchild bedtime stories via hologram. It’s a story told with an obvious tug on the heartstrings. So, it seems to me that big business now believes that emotions can be projected across the internet, and thus used to sell their products. And it has always seemed strange to me that people who have probably grown up weeping over films at the cinema and on TV, and perhaps eagerly awaiting the next retailer’s Christmas Advert, don’t think that one-to-one video could have anything to do with emotion.

The time has come to dispense with those notions of video chat being impersonal. They are standing in the way of taking practical action to deal with loneliness and isolation. When I did a piece of work for the Centre for Ageing Better a few years ago I met Greta and Arnold who were getting daily updates on the progress of their young greatgrandchildren via WhatsApp, and Joyce who had reconnected with her family across the Atlantic after a 40-year break via Skype.  I still love the CNA Speaking Exchange which pairs students learning English in Brazil with isolated older people in the USA. I will leave you with an inspiraitional video from that project. I am still looking for funding to run something similar involving UK older citizens.

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While you are here, can I please ask you to take a minute to subscribe to my YouTube Channel here

If you would like to support me to do more of my work in using Digital Storytelling, social media, and video for social good, please consider making a regular contribution via Patreon or perhaps, just buy me a coffee here