Helping to call last orders on loneliness: Q&A with Deborah Kemp, Pub is The Hub’s Ambassador for Loneliness

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Deborah, together with Pub is The Hub’s team of regional advisors, offers simple ideas to publicans on ways they can help combat loneliness in their local areas, including organisations they can connect with to help create opportunities for people to ‘Join Inn’ at their pub. Get in touch with one of our advisors by emailing

Read on to find out more about the ‘Join Inn – Last Orders for Loneliness’ campaign and simple ways Deborah, who had a 25-year career in the pub industry, believes publicans can help alleviate the growing issue of loneliness...

Why is Pub is The Hub so well placed to help support publicans in addressing the issue of loneliness?

The Pub is The Hub management team and regional advisors have learnt over the years how small, local projects can make a big difference in a local area if they have the inspiration and drive of a good publican who is supported and guided to help.

After several hundred projects completed, the local insights, experience and knowledge gained by our regional advisors and management team has been unique and invaluable in working with local authorities and pub owners to help tackle some local isolation issues.

What does your role as ‘Ambassador for Loneliness’ involve?

My role has three primary areas of responsibility:

  • To raise awareness of increasing societal loneliness within the UK, and the role publicans and their pubs can play in improving the quality-of-life within their communities.
  • To build sustainable partnerships with other people engaged in the loneliness debate, enabling more publicans to help their communities.
  • To recognise publicans already making a difference and help others with practical help and advice to address local needs with local solutions.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

Having the opportunity, post Covid-19, to help support publicans and their communities to become better connected, helping people feel less isolated and, in the process helping to alleviate loneliness.

Our campaign just wants everyone to think about doing small acts of kindness, which cumulatively will make a big difference, especially to someone who may feel that no one cares about them.

The ‘Join Inn’ campaign was started in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic. Do you think the pandemic has made the campaign even more important now?

Absolutely, early findings from research done by the Local Government Association on COVID-19, loneliness and social isolation highlights three main findings:

  • People who felt most lonely prior to Covid in the UK now have even higher levels of loneliness. This increase began as physical distancing, shielding and lockdown measures were introduced in the UK, in March 2020.
  • Adults most at risk of being lonely, and increasingly so over this period, have one or more of the following characteristics: they are young, living alone, on low incomes, out of work and, or with a mental health condition.
  • The impact on wellbeing from people at risk of loneliness is likely to be compounded by other economic and social impacts experienced by the same people, such as those experiencing job losses and health anxieties.

Publicans are facing many challenges at present and will be busy when pubs reopen. How can publicans easily engage with the ‘Join Inn’ campaign and make a difference to people in their local areas?

There are three simple things that seem to make a difference:

  1. Ask yourself ‘is my pub relevant and accessible to everyone in the area’. By this I mean do residents see your premises as more than just a pub but as a community space. How can you break down any physical, cultural, and social barriers that may prevent some people from coming to join in.
  2. Are you proactive in creating opportunities for residents to come together around a variety of shared activities and events. For many people the food and drink are just a means by which they can come to a community hub where people of all ages meet for lots of different reason
  3. Think about the potential benefits of diversification, addressing the broader needs of residents through the provision of other essential community services, particularly in rural areas where economic pressures are seeing these gradually disappear.
Like Covid-19 loneliness spreads until someone steps in to break the chain and creates an inclusive space for people to thrive in.
Ironically, modern advancements have enabled us to stay more connected, but in the process disabled us as human beings.

How can publicans identify people in their local area who are experiencing isolation/loneliness?

I suspect there isn’t any one thing that flags it to the outside world but several small behavioural changes that might over time build a picture. The sad fact is however that loneliness begets loneliness, not just for individuals but across communities too.

Consider if there are people who you see less frequently, or not at all, especially when pubs can reopen. Try and get someone to contact them to help reconnect them with people.

Spend time, and really listen, to hear what people might be trying to tell you. Look at whether they are withdrawn or seem tired or forgetful. These are all signs of isolation and potential loneliness.

When you get the opportunity to chat ask open questions to invite conversation – ask what they have been up to, invite them to an event you think they might enjoy, and just show them you care.

Lastly, one very subtle sign is that someone might begin to substitute material possessions for human relationships. Buying stuff is associated with depression, anxiety and relationship break-ups, founded in the belief that it will make us feel better. It does not.

Why do you think loneliness is such a big issue in our society now, compared to say 20 years ago?

Loneliness will always feel different to different people at different times of their lives. I believe many causes of loneliness can however be associated with major demographic, economic and spiritual shifts over the past 20 years, including:

  • The rise in social media connections and online communities for the young - a poor relation to the richness of physical real-life interactions and communities.
  • Rising individualism - widening inequality between the rich and poor, a rise in the number of single-person households, more woman at work outside of the home, smaller families, and the elderly living longer but independently from their children.
  • Britain is becoming more secular with 52% of the public now saying they do not belong to any religion.

All these things contribute to the erosion of social networks, engagement through religious participation, memberships in community groups and the frequency with which people invite friends to their home. What we say and what we do have never been more in conflict. Most people will say they value their family and friends above all other things, and yet focus on pursuits around social standing, material possessions and money, neglecting these most prized relationships.

For example, advances in:

  • transportation makes it easier for us to travel and commute, allowing us to live further away from family and friends but then never allowing us the time to see them.
  • medicine helps us live longer, but often we are outliving those close confidantes and friends so essential to our identity, independence, and well-being.
  • home delivery means we can access everything we could possibly need, except the human interactions with the outside world.

What do you love about pubs?

For me it’s the art of the possible. Starting my career as a chartered surveyor I always tend to think of the pub as the physical bricks and mortar. Its personality and value are entirely dependent upon finding the right publican. That special person who brings together a random group of diverse characters from the local area and creates a community who care about each other, despite their differences. It is this care that builds trust and collaboration fundamental to a pub becoming a safe space and hub, for the community to come together.

Throughout my career I’ve seen individuals take soul-less space and create something magical that’s hard to describe, and it wasn’t because they had deep pockets either.

For you, what should a great pub be about?

I have visited thousands of pubs in my life and for me it’s not just about the offer, or what the publican does but how you feel when you walk through the door. You just feel at home, but better, with the comforting buzz of conversation, the warmth of people around you and an amazing sense of wellbeing and belonging. It should be an escape from the world outside.

This hasn’t always been my experience though! As a young 20-year-old, when women were a novelty in pubs, I was once, when visiting a London pub at lunchtime, mistakenly taken for the stripper!

These publicans understand the difference between delivering the ‘customer service’ and creating an experience we long for as human beings – to feel cared for and loved. When this is missing in our lives, we all open ourselves up to feelings of loneliness.