Social isolation is a state of complete or near-complete lack of contact between an individual and society. It differs from loneliness, which reflects a temporary lack of contact with other humans. Social isolation can be an issue for individuals of any age, though symptoms may differ by age group.

It takes a lot of courage and a real wish to break free from chains of social isolation.  It may be a single realisation, a life event, a moment that flicks a switch and starts this journey back for the individual.  It is a true journey of courage and rediscovery and laughter, it is not without its  wobbles, hurdles, pitfalls and barriers.  However with the right support these first faltering steps can be the beginning of a richer, happier life.

For me it has been a huge privilege to be at the start of this journey for some of the participants on the Living Well to Work project, some of whom have been socially isolated for many years.  To be a part of the road that can shape the rest of their lives, like watching a chick first hatch from the confines of its egg, wobbly and vulnerable at first.  But slowly their feathers begin to fluff and prepare them for the road ahead.

The journey is equally fabulous and frustrating as you watch new friendships emerge and confidence grow, you also find your first pitfall; references, some jobs require up to 3 referees which may need to have known you for between two and five years.

Volunteering opportunities can provide a degree of flexibility with reference requests.  You don’t necessarily have to volunteer at just one opportunity provider either.  All the while you are volunteering you are building up new references; you are trying and learning new things, meeting new people and building your confidence and skills.  You may be volunteering somewhere that can provide you with training and qualifications, either in house or with providers such as our Academy.

Regular volunteering will also show potential employers that you are committed to returning to work, that you are reliable, that you are kind, that you have skills.  Regular volunteering will also remind yourself that you have all these skills and that you can learn more.  Doing good makes you feel good, as your mental health improves your physical health may well soon follow.

Volunteering is a softer journey back to work, more supportive and you have the potential to gain far more than you give; friends, fun, qualifications, positive memories, skills and experience.

Many people once in work continue to volunteer and believe that it has opened up more career routes for them, enhancing their employment journey.

"I’m never short of things to talk about at interview thanks to the various things I’ve done and challenges I’ve overcome through volunteering," Naomi, a 22-year-old Peer Support Worker told us. "It’s also given me a whole network of people all over the UK who are doing lots of interesting things, which has helped me to find jobs in the first place."

Being a part of the participants’ journey on Living Well to Work makes me proud, proud of people who have a huge amount of courage to take their first steps back to Living Well.  I get to work with people who inspire me every day with their courage in the face of their own fears, people who are having to climb mountains in their hearts and minds, I am lucky that they put their trust in me if only for a short while on their new journey back to Living Well.