Heat map of loneliness in London could provide insights into social isolation

A new project to map loneliness in London hopes to highlight the scale of the issue and target existing services to those who need them most. 

The project, which launches today (17 January), is the first of its kind and aims to collect data from thousands of Londoners to produce a visual snapshot of social isolation and loneliness across west London. 

Led by Imperial’s School of Public Health, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Hammersmith & Fulham Council, the team will reach out to thousands of residents in the area and encourage them to complete a brief online survey

Responses will help to build a clearer picture of how loneliness is affecting people in the borough and across the Capital. The team hopes the findings will not only help to raise awareness about the scale of the issue, but also target existing services to people experiencing loneliness. 

In addition, they hope the work could provide a template that could be easily rolled out to provide insights at city, regional or national levels. 

Dr Austen El-Osta, Director of the Self-Care Academic Research Unit (SCARU) in the School of Public Health and General Manager, Directorate of Public Health & Primary Care Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, who leads the project, said: “Loneliness is one of society's entrenched problems, and has a significant impact on mental health, life expectancy and quality of life. 

“As loneliness and isolation can affect people of all ages and from all different walks of life, it is important for us to gain insights from as diverse a range of people as possible. We hope that members of the community will help us to capture a snapshot of the issue to better inform interventions and the future direction of research into an important area of study that is often overlooked.” 

The study initially plans to recruit from communities across Hammersmith and Fulham, including from schools, libraries, sheltered accommodation, adult education, care homes as well as through all GP practices across the borough. 

The online survey is available in multiple languages and should take no longer than ten minutes to complete. It contains questions on aspects relating to social life and interactions, local community, employment, age, and level of education. 

People can complete the survey anonymously and don’t have to provide personal information, but they will be asked to provide a full postcode which will be used to generate a heat map of loneliness and isolation in the area. They can also provide name and contact if they wish to be contacted for a follow up. The heat map will be detailed to street level only, not to the level of individual households. 

Dr El-Osta said: “We hope our heat map of loneliness will help us answer some key questions, including to what extent the patterns we observe from measuring loneliness are similar to those derived by using known predictors of loneliness, such as unemployment, living alone and other factors. We could also look at what evidence-based interventions could be considered based on the area in which people live, their communities, and the services that already exist. Local authorities could use this information to mobilise already existing community assets (such as pharmacists, or volunteer organisations) and targeted interventions (such as befriending schemes & organised walks in the park and team parties) to support people in need, or who may be suffering in silence.” 

Cllr Ben Coleman, Hammersmith & Fulham Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care said: “Tackling loneliness and isolation in H&F is a priority for the council and our health partners. Together with Imperial College London, we are undertaking the first survey of its kind in the UK to help us do more to support residents.” 

You can learn more about the study and take part in the survey by visiting this link, or on Twitter.

The research is funded by NIHR Applied Research Collaboration NWL.