The Bright Stars project was funded as part of Brightlife’s ‘Bright Ideas’ strand. This fund encouraged local groups, voluntary organisations and businesses to come forward with ideas to reduce isolation and loneliness for older people within areas or communities of interest.
Bright Stars was delivered by Motherwell Cheshire CIC, a charity providing mental health and wellbeing support for women (primarily mothers) from disadvantaged backgrounds, with an award of £17,884.
Communication with participants and volunteers needs to be through appropriate channels – many older people do not have access to email or social media for example, so may need to keep in touch via telephone.
Mentoring relationships can be enhanced by the introduction of a skill-sharing element, whereby mentees can ‘give back’ to mentors.
Volunteers can offer a huge range of skills to an organisation; these skills can be capitalised upon by involving volunteers in decision-making processes.
Development and delivery
The project was designed as a pilot scheme to assess the potential for an intergenerational mentoring scheme, in which women aged over 50 could become mentors for younger women/mothers who had experienced mental health issues and/or family breakdown. The mentoring relationship was designed to be long-term, developing over several years to establish deep trust.
A volunteer coordinator was recruited to manage the scheme, including arranging for mentors to receive appropriate training and safeguarding guidance for handling any potential challenges.
The focus of the scheme was on Winsford, however the project team reported that it was difficult to recruit enough volunteer mentors from such a small area. They also reported that many of the volunteer mentors lacked confidence, especially if they had been out of work for a few years.
The majority of mentors ended up providing practical support as well as emotional support to mentees, and a skill-sharing element was introduced to enable mentees to give back to the older participants, for example by teaching them how to use technology and social media.
The project delivery team reported that many of the volunteer mentors expressed an interest in becoming more involved with Motherwell as an organisation, so invitations were extended to mentors to get involved in other fundraising and promotional activities.
Impact and legacy
The data collected from the evaluation of the scheme suggests that participation increased wellbeing for 90% of the mentors (of the 10% who reported no change, half said this was due to them dealing with significant personal changes in their lives while taking part in the scheme).
The involvement of volunteer mentors in fundraising for Motherwell was a success, with participants reporting that it provided them with a renewed sense of purpose and belonging, as if they were still in employment.
Brightlife was able to help Motherwell Cheshire to raise its profile through both local and national PR, while implementation of Brightlife’s ‘co-production’ ethos helped the project team to enhance the commitment and engagement of both mentors and mentees.
Delivery of several elements of the mentoring scheme have continued beyond the end of the initial Brightlife funding period, including ongoing support for existing matched pairs – ensuring that the relationships that have been developed continue to be positive and life-changing for both women involved.
“We have felt very supported by Brightlife and [the team has] provided us with the flexibility to make this project a success. This […] pilot project has supported us to look at what needs to change and what needs to stay. We are sure the intergenerational aspect of this project will continue within the core of our work.”