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Community meals help to reduce loneliness and isolation, says survey

02 February 2024

The poll was undertaken by the charity FoodCycle


SHARED meals can help to meet rising levels of loneliness and isolation, a new survey has found. The poll, undertaken by the charity FoodCycle, confirmed that the majority of people who were surveyed (84 per cent) left its weekly community meals feeling “less lonely”.

Established in 2009, FoodCycle takes surplus food donated by local businesses and turns it into shared community meals. It currently operates mealtimes in 83 national locations, and hopes to increase this to 100 sites by the end of this year.

Of those who visited, 92 per cent said that they felt happier at the end of each meal, and 88 per cent felt “more a part of their community”. The research exercise was undertaken at the end of last year.

“This year’s guest and volunteer survey confirms what our teams see every single week,” the chief executive of FoodCycle, Sophie Tebbetts, said. “The latest national figures report rising numbers of people feeling lonely often, and we believe FoodCycle’s community-dining model can play a huge part in tackling this pandemic.”

Volunteers participated in the survey alongside guests. Two-thirds (64 per cent) of those who had signed up to help with the meals said that they had been motivated by the social need to combat loneliness. Meeting people from other backgrounds was a highlight for 77 per cent of volunteers questioned, while 40 per cent said that they had made new friends.

One FoodCycle volunteer said: “As relatively new to the UK, it has given me an opportunity to meet new people and make a difference in the community. I love cooking, and FoodCycle has given me an opportunity to use my skills effectively.”

The 2023 survey polled 1448 FoodCycle guests, and 1093 volunteers. It also bears out the findings of other data from last year. The UK Office for National Statistics reported last June that one in four adults in the UK (26 per cent) said that they often felt lonely.

The same month, a report from Age UK’s Campaign to End Loneliness (which is due to close in April) found chronic loneliness to be a problem for 3.83 million (7.1 per cent) of the UK population.

Clergy can also experience the same problem. In February last year, a survey commissioned by the Clergy Family Network suggested that 44 per cent of clergy families suffered from isolation and loneliness, and experienced “issues with isolation/making friends” (News, 17 February 2023).

The way to tackle social isolation was through community dining, by “empowering communities to share great food and conversation in a warm and welcoming space”, Ms Tebbetts said.

A year ago, FoodCycle issued its Your Place at the Table report, based on a survey of 2000 people. Two in three respondents felt that not enough was being done by local councils to promote local dining projects, and 96 per cent of the respondents had not heard of such initiatives.


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