02/11/2018 00:01 GMT | Updated 02/11/2018 11:27 GMT

The UK's Loneliness Epidemic Is Reaching Colossal Levels - Could Books Help Tackle It?

'The reading is what brought us together.'

When you’re gripped by a good book, it’s easy to forget your day-to-day troubles and get lost in someone else’s story. But as well as offering escapism, reading could be a powerful tool to tackle loneliness, a new report suggests.

Think tank Demos and The Reading Agency charity believe that reading can not only help isolated people of all ages, from the elderly to young mothers, but also help protect future generations from the loneliness epidemic.

It’s predicted that by 2030, loneliness in the UK will reach epic proportions with seven million people experiencing it in the over-60s age-group alone.

Together, Demos and The Reading Agency are calling on the government to implement a range of reading-related policies to try and tackle the issue.

One of their recommendations is for a £200m fund for reading-related loneliness interventions. They are also calling for the creation of ‘Book Relief’, a national televised high-profile fundraising event – along the lines of ‘Sport Relief’ – to showcase the proven power of reading and raise money for related charities. 

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Studies have found that regular readers tend to be less lonely and that reading groups can provide a route out of social isolation for young mothers who are particularly susceptible to loneliness.

The report is timely, coinciding with the launch of Reading Friends, a nationwide programme funded by the Big Lottery Fund, which aims to connect vulnerable individuals and encourage them to start conversations through reading groups or one-to-one sessions.

Jane Roberts, 83, from Colwyn Bay in Wales has been paired up with Anne Marie Evans, 63, who visits once a week to read to her. They spend an hour together, reading and chatting – and have been piloting the scheme for six months now.

Over time they’ve become so much more than reading companions, Anne Marie, who lives in Penmachno, tells HuffPost UK. “We are friends. The friendship has become more important than the reading really. The reading is what brought us together.”

The first book they read together was a history of Colwyn Bay, which is where Jane lives, and they’re now reading a book by British author Lesley Pearse.

Penelope Joannidou
Jane (left) with poet Ifor ap Glyn (right).

“Anne Marie is a very good listener and whenever she goes away she sends me a card, very often she’ll bring me flowers from her garden, she’s even brought me a cake she’s made,” says Jane. “I don’t know what to say, she’s just a very wonderful lady.”

An evaluation of the pilot scheme showed a huge encouraging 88 per cent of participants appreciated the increased social contact they had from reading-inspired conversations.

Polly Mackenzie, chief executive of Demos, said that we now need to work towards becoming a “society of readers” in order to tackle loneliness.

“Reading may not seem like a radical solution to solving some of the biggest issues of this generation. However this report proves that reading can train our brains and hold off dementia, help us foster connections with other people and alleviate loneliness and depression,” she explained.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that reading can transform British society.”