More than a meal – how Sheffield lunch clubs are tackling loneliness

Sheffield Council has pledged to keep funding lunch clubs
Sheffield Council has pledged to keep funding lunch clubs

Lunch clubs for older people will continue to get council funding so they can tackle loneliness in Sheffield communities.

Council bosses have pledged to fund 51 lunch clubs until 2022 to help reduce isolation amongst older people. More than 60 percent of people who attend lunch clubs are aged 80-plus.

A budget of £189,000 per year, for the next three financial years, will be split between direct funding to lunch clubs and a service to help support and develop them.

Lunch clubs would usually be invited to reapply for funding but the council says calculating and monitoring the grants has become complicated so it wants to streamline the process.

In a report, Alex Shilkoff, Sheffield Council community services manager, says: “The purpose of the fund is to maintain and improve the wellbeing of older people by supporting the delivery of lunch clubs to reduce loneliness and isolation, and increase connections to friends and the community.

“Lunch clubs are so much more than lunch. They provide opportunities to socialise, volunteer and take part in a range of activities. Feedback from clubs indicates they continue to have a hugely positive impact for older people and are a good example of community action to address local need.

“Lunch clubs play an important part in the ongoing health and wellbeing of older people. Membership not only provides a hot meal to people that might otherwise not cook from scratch for themselves but the connection with other people.

“Making friends can provide wider support which ultimately prevents over reliance on statutory services, and helps people maintain a fulfilled life and independence.

“They cater for a wide range of members but the over 80s form a large group, often frail, living alone and isolated.

“We know that people who are socially isolated are between two and five times more likely to die prematurely than those who have strong social ties so every effort to support lunch clubs to provide this function is essential.”

The majority of clubs are run solely by volunteers and rely on additional support when they are in crisis so some funding will be set aside for development work. This could help train  volunteers, manage finances, meet legal health and safety standards, vary the activities they offer and plan for the future.

The fund will be open for any group to apply, although priority will be given to areas with high levels of economic deprivation and gaps in provision for older people.

Clubs which simply deliver a hot meal and company can apply for a basic £500 grant which must be used towards rent and/or transport.

There will also be an enhanced grant for clubs which want to deliver a range of activities in return for a grant covering 100 per cent of rent and community transport costs.

The council has taken the lead on this although the Government looks set to make it statutory for councils to tackle loneliness and isolation.

Sheffield lunch clubs