Delivering a co-design programme in Rochdale to reduce loneliness and isolation in older communities

The beginning  

The statistics are stark.

  • Around 3.9 million older people in the UK say the television is their main source of company (Age UK 2014)
  • Loneliness and social isolation are harmful to health. Lacking social connections is a comparable risk factor for early death as smoking - increasing the likelihood of mortality by 26% (Holt-Lunstad, 2015)

Despite the challenge of reversing this trend, there are a number of organisations and programmes across the country that are addressing these issues head on.

Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) wanted to deliver a co-designed programme of activity with older communities to tackle loneliness and isolation. They approached Co:Create because of our co-production expertise, especially our involvement in Age Better in Sheffield – an internationally recognised project that has successfully helped reduce isolation and loneliness in older people across the city.

What we did

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Co:Create and RBH worked together to deliver a programme of co-design activity with older people’s communities in Rochdale. The work produced insights, allowing RBH to prototype and test approaches to creating connected communities.

We upskilled the RBH workforce with experiences in collaborative approaches; increasing the capacity within the organisation to deliver more of this work in the future.

Using a Design Thinking approach we worked on the Empathise, Define and Ideate phases of the model. These areas focus on gaining insights and understanding the community aspirations and assets which would allow co-production and prototyping of service models.

How we did it  

To understand differing perspectives of staff, volunteers and community members; Co:Create engaged in a series of ‘empathise and define’ conversations. These discussions looked at stakeholder’s ideas to reduce loneliness and isolation in Rochdale and to understand what was already in place.

The insights we collated during engagement helped form themes including:

  • Using Peer Support, volunteers and sharing skills
  • Understand the activities older people want and what residents of community schemes want
  • Hold Events to give residents the opportunity to feedback and engage in co-design
  • Design an offer for older people with a new purpose and new staff roles
  • Understand the importance of wellbeing
  • Design a toolbox for scheme managers so the same guidance is always followed
  • Look at how residents can be involved in co-design
  • Look at how to engage with the wider community at the schemes  
  • Design sustainable activities and services to ensure continuation after funding

The project then moved onto training. Here, Co:Create delivered workshops to stakeholders (RBH, voluntary organisations and volunteers) covering basic principles, processes and tools of co-design. With the insight from the conversations and the support of RBH staff, we delivered 5 co-design activities with the community, described below.

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The outcome

Following these activities, Co:Create provided further training in how to collate co-design findings and use them for service model prototyping. Each group presented their activity and experiences based on data gathered in the workshops.

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The groups worked through feedback from their activities and clustered them into themes, identifying the most prevalent and using this to build a prototype for a new service or activity. Prototyping is a key element of the design process and involves designing a basic version, used to test a concept or process. Feedback gathered at this stage is used to design a more complete version. 

Delivery of Co:Create’s co-production would usually involve customers in the collation of findings, theming and prototyping but due to the purpose of this work it wasn’t essential.


During the project there was a lot of enthusiasm for co-design activities to support the reduction of loneliness and isolation within Rochdale. One attendee said “The whole process was great, I learnt a lot and would love to see this project progress”. 

We saw people with a shared vision working collaboratively and building new relationships. This work has enabled RBH staff and partners to learn skills and they can now scale up the co-design work to continue to testing and designing service models.

Emma Ward