New campaign to tackle loneliness secures Government funding

Public transport will be used to connect people in a new way as part of a new Department for Transport funded 12 month pilot scheme aimed at tackling loneliness in the West Midlands. 

Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) has secured £460,000 funding to set up the Let’s Chat scheme which will offer those most at risk from loneliness new opportunities for social interaction as well as help and advice on a range of topics. 

People will be able to access the service in one of three ways: 

  • Four dedicated buses/mobile units going out to communities, acting as a focal point for conversations, advice and assistance.
  • Opening up community meeting space within vacant shop or commercial units at five bus stations; Bilson, Coventry, Dudley, Walsall and West Bromwich.
  • Using eight community transport minibuses, to offer a door-to-door service for people where the lack of transport is a barrier to social contact.
New campaign to tackle loneliness secures Government funding

One of the Let's Chat buses offering a focal point for conversations, advice and assistance for people at risk of loneliness

TfWM, which is part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), has developed the scheme with support from Walsall Community Transport, Shencare and Community Transport (group) and is looking to work with further organisations across the region. 

The bid was submitted to Government following a successful trial on a Let’s Chat bus in Walsall which saw meaningful contact with more than 900 people in six months. 

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA, said: “I very much welcome this announcement from the Department for Transport. We know that here in our region some 13% of our residents are suffering with loneliness, and we don’t want people to suffer in silence. 

“So, it’s great news that funding is now in place to enable us to take forward projects like our ‘Let’s Chat’ programme that will help people in need to make new connections. 

“Our transport network as a whole already plays an important role in alleviating isolation by taking people to social events and gatherings, and this new funding will allow us to add to that by having dedicated spaces set aside at bus stations and other venues being made available for drop in coffees and chat sessions.” 

Cllr Ian Ward, WMCA portfolio holder for transport and leader of Birmingham City Council, added: “This project demonstrates how good public transport is not just about getting people to and from work, but can also offer so much more, including a way out of isolation and loneliness. 

“This project has been designed to remove some of the barriers which prevent people seeking help and support. 

“We know the pandemic has had a huge impact on people’s mental health and therefore we are keen to get the Let’s Chat buses and bus station spaces up and running as soon as possible and start helping people.” 

Minister Baroness Vere said: “Loneliness affects millions of people across the UK. Transport can help us solve this problem by connecting us to people, places and experiences. 

“Congratulations to the organisations that secured funding for their proposals. This is a great opportunity to improve future transport schemes and shape the national conversation on loneliness. 

“We will continue to work closely with transport providers and community groups to build an inclusive and accessible transport network.”