Imperial to create heat map of loneliness in London

Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, and Hammersmith and Fulham Council, are working together on a new project to map loneliness in London.

The aim of the work is to ‘highlight the scale of the issue’ and to help better target services. Imperial is hoping to collect data from thousands of Londoners, which will then be used to create a ‘visual snapshot’ of social isolation.

The project launched earlier this week, on 17 January, and involves the team reaching out to local residents in west London and asking them to complete an online survey. This can be completed anonymously, should take around 10 minutes to complete, and is available in multiple languages.

Imperial’s survey contains questions on social life and interactions, the local community, and respondents’ employment, age, and level of education.

Initially focused on communities across Hammersmith and Fulham, the study will try to recruit respondents from schools, libraries, sheltered accommodation, adult education, care homes and GP practices.

Although people do not have to provide personal information, they will be asked to share their full postcode. This will be used to help researchers generate a heat map, which shows levels of loneliness at street level, within the area. It’s hoped the study will act as a template, which can be rolled out to also ‘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, and 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.

“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 and organised walks in the park and team parties) to support people in need, or who may be suffering in silence.”

To find out more about the study, which is funded by NIHR Applied Research Collaboration NWL, and to take the survey, click here.