The place of kindness: combating loneliness and building stronger communities

Social isolation Community development Well-being United Kingdom
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The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Carnegie UK Trust both have longstanding interests in evidence-based approaches to enabling and empowering people and their communities in order to promote thriving places and wellbeing.

With isolation and loneliness recognised as major challenges, and widening inequalities and social polarisation, now is the time to be focusing on kindness. A focus on our responsibilities and abilities as individuals and our power to make a difference. This project emerged from JRF research which shed light on the complex infrastructure of relationships and acts of kindness which can have a significant impact on the quality of our lives.

This is a second stage of our project on kindness. In the first (Ferguson, 2016) we tried to set out the evidence and thinking on the subject. In this stage, we engaged directly with people who want to explore and talk about kindness in their work, their lives and their communities, and test whether we should, and indeed could, do anything to support and encourage kinder communities.

Talking about kindness in a public policy context doesn’t sit comfortably with most of us. It feels both too personal and too ephemeral. Talking about, and valuing, being friendly, generous and considerate might appear both ‘soft’ and also too glib. Especially when people face so many real and substantial barriers to achieving social and economic wellbeing

But it’s important to talk about that which makes us uncomfortable; which challenges us; which involves taking a risk. What we’ve discovered over the past nine months are powerful examples of where kindness and everyday relationships can affect change and support the wellbeing of individuals and communities. In short, the report finds kindness is a necessary ingredient of successful communities however certainly not a sufficient one.

But there are major factors that get in the way of engaging and encouraging kindness both in individuals and organisations. These include real and imagined rules relating to risk; funders and policy makers valuing the formal and organisational over the informal and individual; and modern definitions of professionalism and good leadership crowding out everyday kindness and intuitive human interactions. These things that ‘get in the way’ are not to be dismissed. But this report indicates they should be balanced with a greater confidence and support for the power of goodwill, affection, warmth, gentleness and concern.

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