Following from a previous blog about the importance of sensory experiences I’ve been exploring the centrality of diverse forms of relational connection in support of improved health and wellbeing. We all acknowledge the importance of reciprocal connection between babies and their caregivers throughout early childhood. Babies know intuitively that their very survival depends on it – but how does this translate as we progress through the life course?

In a recent report, the Centre for Ageing Better gave some positive news. Those in later life appear more likely to feel connected to their local community than younger people. However, this may hide deep inequalities with the poorest and those in worst health at great risk of becoming disconnected as they age. The covid-19 pandemic has highlighted new risks associated with these inequalities. For example, at a time when more of us have come to rely on digital connection, those who are digitally excluded become further isolated from the world and community around them. This particularly impacts on older people.

As we begin to emerge from this awful virus, it feels the right time to think more about the concept of meaningful relational connection, connected communities and connected generations. What might the civic, social, educational and health ecosystem needs to look like to facilitate and scaffold connections that make most difference to people both immediately and over time? How might these diverse services need to work differently together to foster connections that improve support and build from the inherent strengths already present in communities. Building from inherent strengths is very different from reviewing existing operating structures, working in loose partnerships or indeed, starting from scratch!

It involves noticing how people live their lives and listening to what they say would make life better. Putting people first sounds like a superficial mantra but it needs shouting now and loudly! People carry their burdens in very different ways but what is clear, as we emerge from covid-19 is that some burdens for some people will be too much to bear alone. Without the warmth of knowing there are others to connect with, who can help and understand, people will become lost and unable to function.


I have taken some facts directly from the Centre for Ageing’s Report as they do shout loudly about the need to build networks of connection like spirograph pictures across and between all members of the community whatever their age, economic status or heritage:

  • Covid-19 has improved our sense of connection – but mostly for people who are better off. Around half of people aged 50-69 who are living comfortably feel more connected to their community than they did before lockdown, compared to a third of people who say they are struggling to get by.
  • There has been a steep decline over time, for every age group, in the proportion of people who report that they definitely have someone to rely on. Less than two-thirds of people aged 50-64 said this in 2018-19, compared to 80% in 2013-14.
  • One in three adults have become more involved in helping out locally since the pandemic hit. But this change has not been evenly distributed across the population. Those with greater socio-economic advantage were more likely to say they had become more involved.
  • Those potentially most in need of help were least likely to access it. 24% of people aged 50-69 years who were finding it quite difficult to get by said they were not aware of local voluntary groups, compared with 16% of those living comfortably.
  • Use of the internet by older age groups rose during covid-19 but there remain over 3.7 million people aged 55 and over who have never used the internet.

The State of Ageing Report November 2020

So – what questions might ensure people and the reality of their lives are the starting point for a post pandemic community debate? Here are mine:

  • what relationships and connections matter most outside the family sphere and how might they look locally?
  • how local does local need to be?
  • to what extent do established silos and boundaries limit knowledge transfer and actually get in the way of purposeful relational connection?
  • what does left behind and invisible look like post pandemic?
  • how could the most vulnerable populations receive quality care from services that act cohesively as an integrated human service structure?
  • what examples of successful and promising practice are out there that reflect connected life-span thinking? Can any of these be scaled easily?

In her beautifully written call to arms On Connection (2020), Kae Tempest suggests:

we have grown far from each other, only maintaining a superficial engagement with whatever is going on around us. Such disconnection, she argues, represents a lack of true feeling. Whilst we all busy ourselves with getting things done the potential of connection is buried deeper! The very thing that could save us is becoming lost.

Ready Generations

Author Ready Generations

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