Development & Alumni Relations Office 

TACKLING LONELINESS, WITH THE HELP OF QUEEN’S ANNUAL FUND  Three students from GP Society with elderly patient

19 June 2020

Months ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic and the isolation it has resulted in for many individuals around the world, members of the University’s student GP Society indicated – in an application to Queen’s Annual Fund (QAF) – that they intended to launch an initiative to tackle loneliness in the community.

Described as a social epidemic, loneliness has been has been compared to smoking and obesity in terms of its impact on personal health. It is also known to increase the risk of dementia, depression and heart disease.

Applying for financial support to the Queen’s Annual Fund, members of the GP Society indicated that they hoped their initiative would encourage conversation to develop awareness of loneliness and of the value of good social interactions. They also anticipated that it would provide a foundation for people to have meaningful social contact, all of which is somewhat prophetic given the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

"This was an initiative to tackle loneliness in the community especially in the elderly population,” said Mandeep Gill, project lead and Vice President of Society.

“We encouraged open conservation of feelings of loneliness arising and what we can do as individuals to approach loneliness in a healthy and effective manner.”

Now in its second year, the GP Society was set up in conjunction with the Royal College of General Practitioners, to promote general practice among medical students and to highlight it as a career option at a time when there is an ongoing crisis in that aspect of the medical profession, with a distinct lack of new GPs to replace those who are retiring.

While the QAF project was clearly targeted externally at the community rather than internally at medical students, with pressure on primary care services the Society aims to show current students the benefits of general practice and its attraction as a career option. 

The Society ran the programme twice a month on Saturday mornings (9am -1pm) from December 2019, putting on offer activities for patients that had been recommended by their GPs.

The funding, which was used to deliver art classes for 5 months, covered paints, canvases, paintbrushes, paper supplies and watercolours.

“We provided art workshops as a gateway to express feelings and emotions in times of loneliness,” said Mandeep. “Social prescribing improves outcomes for people and results in fewer GP consultations and A & E attendances."

Queen’s Annual Fund was established in May 1999 to support and enhance all aspects of the Queen’s experience for students. Unrestricted funds are raised annually from graduates and friends of the University, primarily through telephone campaigns.  

With grants typically ranging from £500 to £2,500, sums are normally dispersed to the University's priority fundraising projects (25%), to scholarships and bursaries (25%) and to projects that enhance the student experience (50%). An exceptional project may, occasionally, be awarded up to £20,000.

Previously the Fund has supported The McClay Library development, equipment for student clubs and societies, work experience and careers initiatives as well as a student safety campaign. 

The Queen’s University of Belfast Foundation, an independent charity, is responsible for dispersing the income raised through the Annual Fund.

In addition to raising awareness of the loneliness crisis, the GP project hopes to tackle stigma, gather individual experiences of social isolation to inspire societal change and document the extent of loneliness that pervades in Belfast. Working in partnership with GPs and understanding key trigger points that push people in and out of feeling lonely, they hope also to develop personalised approaches and local solutions to tackle loneliness.

For more on Queen’s Annual Fund, visit the Foundation website or contact Regular Giving Manager Stephen O’Reilly.

For general enquiries about this story or to submit a graduate news item, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen’s University Belfast.

Pictured above are (L-R): GP Society members Janet Graham, Prapti Gurung and Serena Hamilton with Mary, a resident at Bell Rotary House where the art therapy workshops took place.

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