Filling a void? The role of social enterprise in addressing social isolation and loneliness in rural communities

Danielle Kelly*, Artur Steiner, Micaela Mazzei, Rachel Baker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)
246 Downloads (Pure)


Social isolation and loneliness has been classed as a major public health concern due to its negative physical and mental health implications, and living in a remote or rural area is a prominent contributing risk factor. Community-led social enterprise models are recognised in government policy as a potential preventative measure for social isolation and loneliness, yet there is a lack of understanding of their application in rural contexts. The objectives of this paper are to investigate the role of social enterprise in addressing social isolation and
loneliness in rural communities, and to explore the pathways in which social enterprise activity may act upon the health and wellbeing of social enterprise beneficiaries. We also discuss the capacity of rural community members to deliver and sustain such services. The study used in-depth interviews over a three-year period with 35 stakeholders from seven social enterprises in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, including board members, staff, volunteers and service users. Findings showed that social enterprises are successfully providing activities that counteract factors contributing to social isolation and feelings of loneliness, leading to wider health and wellbeing benefits for individuals. However, the sustainability and continuity of social enterprises are questionable due to the burden on smaller populations, limited expertise and knowledge of running social enterprises, and effects on the personal lives of social enterprise volunteers and staff. This study supports suggestions that social enterprises can be generators of health and wellbeing through their varied remit of activities that impact on the social determinants of health. However, it also shows that relying on social enterprise as a particular solution to social isolation and loneliness is precarious due to complexities associated with rurality. Therefore, rural policy and practice must move away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach to tackling social isolation and loneliness, recognise the need for local level tailored interventions and, through harnessing the potential or rural social enterprises, enable flexible service provision that correlates with rural context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-236
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
Early online date29 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


  • social enterprise
  • social isolation
  • health and wellbeing
  • Health
  • Wellbeing
  • Loneliness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science


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