Editorial

Museums have role in tackling loneliness
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Simon Stephens
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Loneliness is a big challenge for many people and is something that has been rising up the political agenda. Earlier this year, the UK government appointed a minister for loneliness, Tracey Crouch, in response to the findings and recommendations from a commission that was established following the murder of Jo Cox, the Labour MP who was particularly concerned about the issue and was affected by loneliness herself.

With more than nine million people across the UK often or always feeling lonely, this is a significant problem. Loneliness cuts across age, race and gender, but some groups, such as disabled people, are particularly vulnerable.

Crouch recently updated health professionals about the progress the government is making in creating a national action plan in England to tackle what has been described as a hidden crisis. The minister, who says that the government’s vision is for “Britain to be a place where people have strong social relationships and feel connected”, referred to arts and culture, as well as volunteering, in her speech.

This feels like a real opportunity for museums and galleries to support their communities by connecting people and making a tangible difference to their lives. Public spaces for people to come together, particularly free venues, are scarce. But museums, which are increasingly being seen as social spaces, can fill the gap (see comment).

One of the big developments in the sector in recent years is the drive to programme many more social activities. The days of offering only occasional talks and private views are long gone – museums now run everything from late-night openings to sleepovers, from behind-the-scenes tours to festivals.

But for museums to participate in the battle to help people overcome loneliness, the sector will need some advice and support. As Crouch admits, there is not yet enough evidence to understand the most effective interventions to tackle loneliness. The government is aiming to publish its national strategy on loneliness this month and hopefully this will help.

There are very few of us who have not experienced loneliness at some points in our lives. If museums can play a bigger role in addressing the issue, the impact could be huge.

Simon Stephens, editor, Museums Journal

simon@museumsassociation.org

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