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| 2 minutes read

Disconnection in a connected age: changing how we think about “resilience”

Today, the Government launched its first ever loneliness strategy, building on the work of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission, which NHS Horizons helped to facilitate.

I’m also currently preparing to give the second annual Jo Cox Memorial Lecture at the University of Cambridge (29th November 2018, full details to follow). This has allowed me time and space to reflect on the Commission, one year on.

One of the Commission’s most important contributors was Alex Smith, Founder of the Cares Family of social enterprises and an inaugural Obama Fellow. Alex’s story is hugely inspiring. Initially a policy specialist, Alex took the leap to found his own organisation and has steadily grown a community network of young professionals and older neighbours hanging out and helping one another in our rapidly changing cities.

The purpose of the Cares Family connects directly to loneliness. The Cares Family network of initiatives seeks to address the blight of disconnection by harnessing the people and places around us for the benefit of all. It recognises that young people often have wide, loose networks but relatively superficial roots in communities of place. Meanwhile older people often have deep roots but lack current, diverse networks and may therefore be at risk of isolation.

These questions have a health dimension too, of course. In his recent speech at the UK Active National Summit, Alex described how overcoming ‘disconnection’ is the secret to helping us live happier, healthier lives.

I like the message for lots of reasons, but in particular for how it reframes the often-used term “resilience”.

Too often in the NHS, the term "resilience" is used (or interpreted) to mean do more with less. It’s a stick with which to beat us, rather than a means to think differently about ourselves and our relationships. This is because we tend to focus on resilience as an individual challenge:

  • How do I get better at coping?
  • How can I do more and still survive?

The work of the Cares Family offers another frame. It suggests that our ability to bounce back – to get better at riding the wave of whatever life has to offer – is a community issue, and needs to be thought of in terms of teams, organisations and systems as well as by each of us personally.

Through that lens, we might ask:

  • What can we do to create an environment which supports us all to ride the wave?
  • What more could happen at an organisational level to create the conditions which support people to live happier, healthier lives?

Globally in healthcare, the role of ‘organisational resilience’ to enable individuals to thrive has become increasingly prominent. The Cognitive Institute, for example, offers a whole series of openly available resources for clinicians who want to learn more. And they link that work specifically to the unacceptable levels of ‘burnout’ among clinicians worldwide.

As NHS Horizons prepares the curriculum for the (virtual) School for Change Agents 2019, we’ll be paying close attention to the emerging evidence-base for using collective, community-based lenses to think about healthcare challenges that were once portrayed as individual problems.

I hope this will make a small contribution to realising Jo Cox’s goal of addressing loneliness and disconnection, one conversation at a time.