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Hope and community fighting austerity and loneliness in Stoke-on-Trent

People in Stoke-on-Trent have been facing the pressure of Conservative-implemented austerity cuts, de-industrialisation and a cost-of-living crisis. But where there is community, there is help available.

February 15 2024, 11.00am

Enter the Temple Street Methodist Church and Community Centre in Stoke-On-Trent on a Thursday morning and you’ll encounter a sea of people spanning all ages, from all parts of the world, now living together in Stoke-on-Trent. Each week the centre provides space for around a hundred people to come and receive clothes, food, hot drinks and - significantly - company. 

This community has been facing the pressure of Conservative-implemented austerity cuts, de-industrialisation and a cost of living crisis, much like many other areas of the country. Food banks have been springing up to help those in need, but as well as the essential access to food, clothing and warm shelter, there has been an ever growing awareness of the impact of loneliness in hard hit communities like this.

This gathering together is a positive opposition to the way that many of these people usually spend their time, which is all too often isolated and alone. John Mellor (not his real name) found solace in the community that these gatherings offer.

He told The Stoke-on-Trent Lead: “After my wife died 18 months ago, it was hard to leave the house. My hearing isn’t great so it’s difficult for me to hear people in noisy public places. 

“I got scared of going out but I was also feeling really alone. Finally I started coming here after some pushing from my family and it’s really changed things for me. I have something to look forward to every week because now I have people to talk to again.”

Glenn Parkes, who first set up the food bank at the Temple Street Community Centre ten years ago, has witnessed the growing impact of loneliness on Stokies. For the past four years, Glenn has been running a Chatty Cafe Scheme to tackle this problem. The Chatty Cafe Scheme is the UK’s leading non-profit tackling loneliness, taking place in community spaces across the country to encourage those feeling isolated to talk to others.

He told The Stoke-on-Trent Lead: “We’ve noticed in the community that people are reluctant to come out the house. We get such a diverse range of people in here. It can be older folks, young parents - mums and dads. 

“We’ve noticed recently there’s a higher proportion of people coming in from different countries. Sometimes they’re desperately alone, they’re in a strange country, a strange city, they probably don’t know anyone... Loneliness is something we need to address.” 

Loneliness, an ever-looming spectre in our collective consciousness, has until recently been a largely private issue. However, with loneliness being significantly influenced by unemployment, alongside the impact of COVID lockdowns and the widely recognised trend of growing individualisation under neoliberal capitalism, what might have seemed like a deeply personal problem a few years ago, is now recognised as being undeniably political. 


Recent studies into the serious health implications of loneliness and social isolation have produced shocking results. The National Institute on Aging reports that social isolation and loneliness have the equivalent health effect of smoking 15 cigarettes a day and can shorten a person’s life by up to 15 years. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy released a public health advisory warning of the grave mental, physical and societal consequences of what he deems a ‘loneliness epidemic.’ 

Following Murthy’s advisory, reports were released in the UK showing that feelings of loneliness increased in almost one million people between 2020 and 2022 (ONS). Almost a fifth of the UK say that they are always or often lonely, and contrary to popular conception, this isn’t something which only affects older people. Almost half of young mums, for example, report feeling always or often lonely. 

The UK government have been following up on the consequences of this ‘epidemic’ for years now, with Jo Cox MP setting up the cross party Commission on Loneliness in 2017. The work of the Commission led Theresa May to create the position of the ‘Minister for Loneliness’ and the UK government became the first in the world to publish a loneliness reduction strategy.

In a post-industrial city like Stoke, an ingrained working class tradition of carrying your own problems coupled with the devastating impact of broader socio-economic forces, loneliness has become a pressing issue. Where once community was provided through regular work down the mines or in the Potteries - ceramics made this city’s fortune and fame and is still a huge point of local pride - Stokies have been left adrift with the lack of stable employment and ever increasing economic difficulties in their area.

As Glenn states: “It’s a fact that the deindustrialisation of the Potteries in Stoke-on-Trent has had quite a depressing impact on the community.”

It’s a sadly unsurprising fact that whilst loneliness is on the increase in all areas of society, places with the lowest levels of economic prosperity are suffering most. Comparing loneliness levels to the deprivation index reveals that 32% of adults in the most deprived areas feel lonely, compared to 21.5% in better performing places. With Stoke in the top 20% on the deprivation index, loneliness is on the up.

“Loneliness is a complex issue that stems from various factors, often rooted in absence of a social network or meaningful employment.”


Birchenwood Pavilion , Kidsgrove, Stoke-on-Trent


This comes from Kelly Smith who works for VAST, a charity promoting volunteering and community in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire. VAST engages in Loneliness Awareness Week, holds the annual Great Get Together and are members of the North Staffordshire Loneliness Partnership. 

“I have worked for VAST for over 10 years after initially starting as a volunteer. I volunteered to improve self-confidence, meet new people and improve my own loneliness. I wanted to use my own experiences to help others.”

VAST has published reports on the issue of loneliness and social isolation in the Stoke area and reveals that one in six adults live alone in the Potteries, and thousands of people in the city haven’t had a conversation with a friend or family member for over a month. 

This dissolution of community spirit can be traced back to the Thatcher years, with the sweeping closures of industry across the country, destruction of the unions, and a concerted effort to pit the working classes against each other. Thirty years ago, community organiser Gaynor Jones says, things felt different.

He told The Stoke-on-Trent Lead: “I came to Stoke-on-Trent in the late eighties and the biggest thing that hit me was the community. I liked that people looked out for each other, spoke to each other in the supermarket. 

“I think it’s absolutely crucial with the increasingly horrific state of mental health and lack of support because everything’s so pushed nowadays… I feel like as a community we need to step up because that’s what we’re missing. Talking to people helps mental health without a doubt, and there’s not enough of it.”

Gaynor is currently running a scheme in the Brampton Museum Cafe to do her part to revive community feeling and to get Stokies chatting to each other again. Work like this, as well as by people like Glenn Parkes, is absolutely vital in combating the overarching socio-political forces which strive to remove community, stability and solidarity from places like Stoke. Lessons learned here can offer valuable insights to places hard hit across the UK grappling with the urgent issue of loneliness.


Brampton museum and art gallery


Glenn said: “It’s about communication and relationships and trying to combat loneliness and social isolation. It’s nice when we see people coming back to us or forming lasting friendships. It’s good to be able to offer people something that will give them a bit of hope and help.”

Bridge Allport founded Stoke-on-Trent-based charity Better Together Community Support Group in 2018 as a social group to combat loneliness and isolation in Springfields and Trent Vale. 

They began with regular meetings for 'a brew and a chat' and a community meal once a week, but soon began to attract people from across the Potteries, Newcastle-under-Lyme and even Stone.

The group became a registered charity in 2021 and opened its community headquarters in Trent Vale in 2022. 

Bridge told The Stoke-on-Trent Lead: "Our activities have widened to providing food parcels, warm spaces, community meals and walks, playgroups, youth group, mental health support and more - but our core aim is still to create a sense of belonging and community spirit.

"People can experience loneliness and isolation for many reasons, including relationship breakdowns, bereavement, unemployment, poverty and health problems - and it can be debilitating. Some of our regulars, who come to our warm space and other activities for company and companionship, have even said that they were considering taking their own lives before they found us.

"We believe that helping people get out and about, and connecting with us and with others, will have a positive impact on their physical and mental well-being.

"We want to ensure that everyone feels like a confident, valued member of society, and we actively encourage everyone that it is ok to ask for help and to reach out."

Sign up to get the Stoke-on-Trent Lead here

Bridge Allport, from Better Together Community Support Group, offers some advice on beating loneliness:

  • It can be difficult to start to live in a different way but recognising that you want to change your situation is a great first step 
  • If you have been very isolated even taking a walk to your local shop and speaking to the shopkeeper can start to break the cycle of loneliness
  • You can find your nearest warm space at - they are free, friendly spaces for the community where you will be guaranteed a warm welcome. Everybody is always welcome to come to our warm space at 4 Woodberry Close, Trent Vale, ST4 5LU - check our website for opening times. 
  • You may find it easier to try new activities once you have made the step of visiting a warm space
  • Websites such as can help you find activities with like-minded people
  • Consider seeing your doctor for support if your mental health has suffered due to loneliness
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