Imagine leaving your friends, family and career, and moving to a new continent. It’s a big adventure, but also scary.
Will you fit in, find friends, make a new life for yourself?
Shuchi, 34, faced all this when she moved from India to London with her husband.
“I suddenly felt very lonely as I moved here,” Shuchi said. “Even though London is very welcoming and I was able to settle down in this new environment very quickly.
“Back in Delhi I had a family group of around 30 people who I would interact with quite frequently. And I also had a large network of friends.
“I didn’t expect moving away… to impact me like this.”
Realising she felt lonely, Shuchi took steps to meet more people, including joining a salsa class, which gave her a lift.
“I would go… to my salsa class, where I would be surrounded by people and I might talk to everyone in the class during those two hours.
But then when it was over, “I would come home and still feel that I was not fulfilled.”
To help herself, Shuchi reached out to help others
Shuchi then decided to deal with her own loneliness by helping others.
“I looked up the Red Cross because I was familiar with their work in India and I wanted to get involved with a humanitarian cause for some time.
“When I learned about the Connecting Communities programme, I thought this was something well suited to me.”
Funded by our partners the Co-op, Connecting Communities is a British Red Cross support service for people experiencing loneliness.
People who would like support are put in contact with a member of their local British Red Cross team. The project also sets up community groups and activities to bring people of all ages and backgrounds together.
Today, Shuchi is a support worker for the British Red Cross Connecting Communities team in Barking and Dagenham in east London.
“I enjoy this work a lot,” Shuchi said. “It is very gratifying on a personal level. I get a lot of inspiration from the people I meet and support.”
“I’ve worked with a number of interesting people, including one service user who had a background in fashion design.
“We were able to get her involved with a local charity that ran sewing workshops.
“With just a little support, she started designing dresses again, reconnecting her with something she was passionate about after 20 years of not doing it.”
A feeling of belonging helps fight loneliness
To mark Loneliness Awareness Week (17-23 June) the British Red Cross, Co-op and race equality think tank Runnymede Trust carried out research looking at experiences of loneliness among people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities.
The Barriers to Belonging research shows how a feeling of belonging within your community can protect against feeling lonely.
We found that belonging to a community, and taking part in activities where you can make meaningful connections to others, helps tackle loneliness. It gives people feelings of being valued, included, safe and able to participate.
Among people who said they belonged in their community, only 16 per cent felt always or often lonely.
But for those who said they didn’t belong, a huge 67 per cent reported feeling always or often lonely.
In addition, the research found people from BAME communities in the UK may be more vulnerable to loneliness. They may also face greater barriers to getting help.
People mentioned issues such as not having enough time or money to join community activities – or experiencing racism or discrimination – as problems. Some felt as if the support available “isn’t for them”.
The research also highlights the importance of making sure community activities where people can connect are open to anyone and take account of cultural and religious requirements.
Red Cross services help people find ways to reconnect with their communities
Over the last two years, the Red Cross has helped more than 9,000 people take part in a wide range of activities.
They include everything from furniture upcycling workshops to gardening clubs, ballroom dancing and falconry. Together, we help people form new social connections and overcome loneliness and social isolation.
Shuchi found volunteering as a Community Connector for two days a week so powerful that she doubled her time at the service to four days a week.
“It is a basic human need to interact with others and I really noticed a shift in the way I felt once I started to meet people through this role,” Shuchi said.
“It really makes my day to hear that I’ve made a difference. Working with the service users also reminds me that we are not alone if we feel lonely due to life circumstances.”
“Seeing the people I support push through their challenges, which are quite extreme at times, and reconnect with their communities is really motivating.
“On most days I come back feeling re-energised to tackle my own issues.”
- Read more about our loneliness research, Barriers to Belonging
- Get help with loneliness
- Volunteer to help lonely people in your community
- Disabled people are a diverse group – but loneliness is a common experience