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‘Only connect’: Humanists UK working to combat loneliness

The national charity for non-religious people, Humanists UK, is exploring new ways to combat the issue of loneliness through its work in the community.

The issue of loneliness has come to increasing public attention in recent months, in part due to the work of the Jo Cox Foundation, named after the murdered Labour MP Jo Cox. In life, Jo had been a humanist and a supporter of Humanists UK. She devoted much of her short career in Parliament to raising awareness of the hidden crisis of loneliness in the UK.

As an initial step towards better understanding the phenomenon and how effective it currently is at reducing loneliness, the charity is surveying its beneficiaries. This includes people who have received pastoral support from Humanists UK volunteers in hospitals and prisons, or who have received from peer support from Faith to Faithless, and people who have attended events by Humanists UK special interest sections and local humanist groups around the country.

Director of Community Services Teddy Prout said,

‘One of our purposes as a charity is to bring non-religious people together to shape their own views, and to make people happier, more confident, and more fulfilled in the one life we have.

‘With people leading busier lives, living longer, and new technologies creating new barriers to connecting with each other, as well as the new opportunities this brings, the concern is that many people are feeling lonely, isolated, or left behind. We want to make sure we’re doing our bit to combat this.

‘We’re looking to see how we can expand and improve our efforts to tackle loneliness. We’re beginning that process by collecting data on how people currently feel they benefit from the events we organise and support around the country, as well as the direct support we offer through our services.’

About our work in the community

Humanists UK has been providing community services for over 120 years, stretching back to its foundation in 1896. Most famously, it supports families and individuals through the provision of high-quality and bespoke non-religious Humanist Ceremonies: humanist weddings, humanist funerals, and humanist naming ceremonies. These are attended by over one million people each year.

Recent years have also seen the growth in the availability of non-religious pastoral care in the UK, which Humanists UK supports through its Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network. Today Humanists UK places non-religious pastoral carers in a third of hospitals, and one in seven prisons, to ensure non-religious people have someone to talk to in times of need and crisis. Humanists UK is exploring ways of offering this service to the wider community, outside of institutional settings, and the impact this might have on loneliness.

As well as providing humanist ceremonies and pastoral support, Humanists UK helps local groups organise to provide meetings, socials, and learning opportunities. It stimulates and supports humanist groups to organise on campuses through Humanist Students, as well as through Young Humanists, and organises events catering to its LGBT members. And through its newest programme, Faith to Faithless, it provides invaluable peer support to vulnerable people who have faced shunning, abuse, or isolation for leaving behind coercive religions.

If you’ve benefited from humanist pastoral support, peer support from Faith to Faithless, or attended social activities organised by local humanist groups, LGBT Humanists, Humanist Students, or Young Humanists, then you are encouraged to fill in a short, anonymous survey about your experiences.

Notes

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Read more about our community services work: https://humanism.org.uk/community/

The value of human connections and the dangers of losing them have been an important theme in writing by humanists. The humanist author E M Forster, a patron of Humanists UK, famously explored this theme in his works like Howards End, A Passage to India, and The Machine Stops. See Emily Buchanan’s HumanistLife article on loneliness and hyperconnectivity as figured in the works of E M Forster: http://humanistlife.org.uk/2014/04/09/only-connect-forsteran-ideology-in-an-age-of-hyperconnectivity/

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