Understanding Loneliness and Social Isolation: The Definition. The Facts. The Solution?

What is loneliness? What is social isolation? And what can we do about it? 

As a sector, we often talk about loneliness and social isolation, and how we can tackle this growing issue.
But many people don’t understand what the terms “loneliness” and “social isolation” mean, and that they have two different definitions.

The best way to understand the difference is:

  • Social isolation is a physical situation – people who are socially isolated usually don’t have personal or social interaction very often, or at all. These people often or always stay at home alone, or avoid social situations as best they can.
  • Loneliness is an emotional state – usually, but not always, caused by social isolation. People who are lonely, often feel alone and “empty”. It can be for many reasons, including divorce/break-up, bereavement, having a baby or because of mental health issues. Whatever the reason, people who are lonely tend to feel like they are completely separated from other people.
The facts on loneliness and social isolation 

Over 35,000 people over the age of 16 (roughly one in six adults) live alone in the Potteries, and research shows that thousands of people in the city haven’t had a conversation with a friend or family member for over a month.

Statistics show that over 9 million people in the UK – almost a fifth of the population – say they are always or often lonely and that two fifths all older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main company.

Loneliness and social isolation isn’t something that only affects older people, research by the Co-operative and British Red Cross shows that almost half (49%) of young mum’s aged 18-25 always or often feel lonely and that more than 80% of mums under 30 say they have met their friends less since having their child.

So, what can we do? 

By nature, we’re social creatures and crave human interaction. But for millions of people, this is something to think about or something they used to do.

There are lots of schemes all over the country to help reduce loneliness and social isolation:

  • Community Transport Schemes 

These schemes can be a lifeline to lonely or isolated people. Door 2 Door Community Transport, the scheme managed by VAST, serves vulnerable residents in Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme to help them get out and about to health-related appointments, shopping trips or social events.

There are several community transport schemes throughout the county which are listed with Staffordshire County Council.

The Community Transport Association (CTA) is a national charity that represents and supports providers of community transport.

Community Transport schemes operate all over the country, where volunteer drivers give up their time to help vulnerable people and to reduce loneliness and isolation.

  • Chatty Café – Chatter and Natter Tables

The Chatty Café scheme gets people talking. In café’s big and small, community café’s and supermarket café’s, ‘Chatter and Natter Tables’ are tables where customers can sit if they’re happy to talk to other customers.

No one should have no one to talk to. The Chatty café aim is to make these ‘Chatter and Natter Tables’ a part of everyday café culture.

The Dudson Café at our Hanley base, the Dudson Centre, has had one of the dedicated ‘Chatter and Natter’ tables for over a year and has really got people together over a brew.

  • Chat Benches

The “Happy to Chat ” Benches scheme was created by Allison Owen-Jones in Cardiff after seeing a man sitting on a bench in a busy park for 40 minutes, alone. Not one person said “Hello.”

It gave Allison an idea – ‘Chat Benches.’ A bench where people can sit to talk to other people. It’s amazing the benefits a conversation can have.

Since marking the first ‘Chat Bench’ in May this year, word has spread and now they are popping up not just all over the UK, but all over the world as far a Canada and Switzerland.

BBC News reported on Allison and her scheme in October this year – watch the video here.

  • Age UK’s Call in Time service

Age UK’s free phone-based befriending service was created by Age UK to help reduce loneliness in older people.  Service users can register or be referred, and Age UK will match them with a like-minded volunteer for a 30-minute chat each week.

Other schemes around the country include:

  • Chatty Bus – getting people talking on the bus.
  • Pop-Up Pop-In’s – weekly pop-up sessions in village halls for advice and information, a drink and, a chat.
  • Casserole Club – plate-sharing volunteers cook an extra portion and share it with a neighbour.
There are so many ways we can tackle the loneliness and social isolation epidemic together.

Campaigntoendloneliness.org has some great resources and really useful information for helping to end loneliness in the UK.


Join the fight against loneliness and social isolation in Stoke-on-Trent with VAST and  Vintage Volunteers. There are lots of volunteering opportunities throughout Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent.

Just an hour or so a week could make a huge difference. Or, if your charity or community group supports people at risk of isolation or loneliness, Vintage Volunteers can help you find new team members through their volunteering service.