Co-op - Finalist for the Experian Award for Building Stronger Communities

How the Co-op is tackling loneliness
  • Linking fundraising and campaigning activity
  • Raising awareness with press coverage
  • Sharing its research with over 150 charities
Finalist for the Experian Award for Building Stronger Communities

With research indicating loneliness affects one in seven of us, the Co-op’s latest community campaign is designed to help 12,500 people across the UK.


When we think of loneliness, we often picture those later in life, but this is not always the case. With nine million people in the UK feeling always or often lonely, it can affect anybody at any age; life changes, like becoming a mum, changes in health and mobility and divorce can all contribute. And loneliness is serious for our health, reportedly worse for us than obesity, and linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as anxiety, depression and dementia. As people experiencing loneliness often withdraw, contributing and engaging less, it affects communities too.

These are some of the findings from research on the subject, from the Co-op and the British Red Cross.

With a rich campaigning history – on everything from working hours to women’s rights and Fairtrade to modern slavery – the Co-op acts according to what is important to its members. And now, alongside Fairtrade, which the Co-op has championed for 20 years, loneliness is now recognised as a top three cause for its business.

That’s because loneliness resonates strongly. After all, it affects members, colleagues and the communities in which Co-op operates, with one in seven reporting that they are always or often lonely and 35 per cent agreeing they know someone in their community who is lonely.

Some 30,000 members helped shape what issues it should champion and 80,000 voted, with the outcome being tackling loneliness. Meanwhile, 4,500 fed into the research, which helped shape the campaign.

To tackle loneliness in UK communities, teaming up with the British Red Cross, the Co-op linked fundraising and campaigning activity. “

We’ve created a body of work which most people would recognise as being both thorough but also quite eye opening

,” says Russ Brady, head of group PR at the Co-operative Group.

As a result, the company has added to society’s understanding of loneliness – previously focused more on those later in life – including further commissioned research showing the £2.5bn a year cost of loneliness to UK employers (around £5m to the Co-op).

Tackling loneliness through fundraising

Through fundraising, the Co-op raised £5m to establish new British Red Cross services to tackle loneliness, supporting 12,500 people. Some 100 Co-op members have signed up to volunteer to support the new services. Plus, the firm is supporting thousands more with the 700 charities funded through the Co-op Local Fund.

“What I loved so much was that they didn’t say to me you’ve been doing this wrong, you’ve been doing that wrong, never judged me, they just listened,” says Dave, a British Red Cross service user. “People who are lonely just want someone to talk to for a few weeks to maybe signpost them in the direction of clubs they can join, things they can do. It is absolutely invaluable.”

By sharing the research with over 150 charities, MPs, government departments and the health and social care sector and through its role as the only business on the Jo Cox National Commission on Loneliness it will indirectly benefit tens of thousands more.

Raising awareness

With over 360 pieces of press coverage – including three nights of extensive coverage on Channel 4 news – it is also raising the general public’s awareness of groups potentially impacted by loneliness.

But “for us, the campaign wasn’t just about raising awareness; it was also about developing practical solutions,” says Brady.

Many people suffering from loneliness have jobs, notes Brady. “So actually, it is something that responsible employers should be made of aware of and clearly we’ve been able to take on board some of the findings of the research.”

Its Funeralcare business, for example, is responding through its social groups for those who are bereaved and the Co-op’s HR team is enhancing the employee assistance programme to support colleagues who are experiencing loneliness.

A four point uplift in engagement scores in the Co-op’s annual colleague survey in 2016 can’t be directly attributed to the campaign – but considering the regular feedback from colleagues about how much the issue resonated with them and that 100 per cent of food stores raised money for the partnership – it appears to have played a part.