FAB Cheshire West Summary Report

The FAB Cheshire West 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.

FAB Cheshire West was delivered over one year by Listening Ear, a mental health charity operating across Cheshire and Merseyside, with an award of £17,620.

Key learning

  • A rigorous mobilisation phase is required when setting up a free-to-access service in a new area.
  • Combining elements of separate projects can work well, especially those involving peer support groups.
  • While themes can be a good basis for overall project design, participants in social groups prefer to focus on interests, skills and events.

 

Development and delivery

The project involved delivery of one-to-one counselling for older people in the region who were experiencing social isolation and loneliness as a result of a close family bereavement. Participants received up to six weeks of individual support, before being offered the opportunity to join one of four ‘Friendship after Bereavement’ or FAB groups, offering social activities and peer support.

These groups met fortnightly in community venues across the delivery area, with activities designed and led by participants. During the course of the project, the FAB groups evolved from their intended purpose (to provide bereavement peer support) into a more general support group for those experiencing loneliness or social isolation, after participants reported that their specific bereavement issues had already been addressed through the one-to-one sessions. 

Volunteer counsellors (who had an existing level 1 or 2 counselling qualification or who were in training to become counsellors) were recruited to deliver the one-to-one sessions and were trained as FAB group coordinators to support the participants in developing activities.

It was anticipated that the majority of participants would be recruited via referral from health professionals. These referrals would be triaged by the existing Adult Services Team Leader at Listening Ear, before either being put forward for an initial telephone assessment, or, if they involved more complex needs, declined and signposted to more appropriate support. 

A referral form was developed and delivered to local health and social care service providers to promote the service. Self-referrals were also encouraged through leaflet distribution to a range of community healthcare settings. Despite these efforts, very few enquiries or referrals were initially received, so delivery of the project was subsequently expanded to a wider area.

 

Impact and legacy

A total of 16 participants took part in the FAB Cheshire West project. Although this was significantly lower than the target of 56 participants, the high retention rate (91%) meant that those who did access the service tended to remain as participants until its conclusion.

Participant numbers for the peer support groups were greater than for the rest of the project, because once the scope and purpose of the FAB groups was expanded beyond just bereavement support, several participants from another Listening Ear project, Men’s Mental Health (also funded by Brightlife) were offered the opportunity to take part.

Listening Ear agreed to self-fund delivery of the FAB groups for a second year, in order to increase the number of participants. Costs were kept to a minimum by negotiating free use of a venue, while a small subscription fee was introduced to fund costs for events/day trips etc.