I returned to work after a Christmas break; that post-Christmas period can be a strange time, a malaise in a slightly depressing mid-winter ‘fog’. Colleagues and partners gradually returning and the slow build up to the usual activity and busyness.
For Brightlife Cheshire, however, January 2020 was different, with an anticipated end date in March but with the unexpected opportunity of an uplift year for some parts of the project, there was much to do. We had the excitement of celebration events, meeting providers to harvest key learning, planning evaluation dissemination events, promoting our legacy with key partners, training local commissioners, refocusing our website to a legacy resource, preparing for our extended Social Prescribing project and so much more. It was also a time tinged with sadness knowing we had to prepare for saying goodbye to fantastic colleagues who could no longer be funded, leading to inevitable redundancy processes, as well as winding down our Partnership and wonderful Older Peoples Alliance.
Cut to January 2021 and I reflect on the incredible journey we have travelled in 12 months. As the pandemic emerged and began to take hold many of our plans fell by the wayside, planned activities were cancelled or placed on hold and the sudden evacuation from office base to home-working meant a brutal parting of the ways for some colleagues. Many of us anticipated a short break before returning to ‘normal’ working soon, but it was not to be. It would have been easy at this point to lose focus on our sense of purpose.
Thankfully, the raison d’etre that bonds Brightlife and all the Ageing Better programmes proved too strong a drive to allow circumstances to defeat us and, in that time, we have learned so much more than we expected about ourselves and our communities.
Ageing Better is exploring why groups are so important in tackling and helping buffer against feelings of loneliness and social isolation, and how to create groups which are really effective. You can read the national Ageing Better Groups Report here or the one page Groups Summary Snapshot
We hope you find these resources helpful and that you’ll share them across your teams and with anyone (for example Link Workers or Social Prescribers) working with groups to help reduce social isolation.
As the national learning from the past 5 years of delivery from across all 14 Ageing Better areas is published, we’ve spoken to some of our commissioned services in Cheshire West to find out more about how the model of delivery is being adapted during this time of Covid-19.
I think one of the things we’re most pleased about at Brightlife is knowing that we (all be it unwittingly) helped to set up networks of connections, friendships and support that became invaluable lifelines for those shielding during lockdown.
One such group is the NeuroMuscular Centre’s Connect Up project – a thriving online community with many diverse activities such as crafts, reading, crosswords, poetry and fishing – when allowed. Most of these groups were already up and running pre-pandemic and are very user led (whilst also including staff and volunteers).
The Read and Connect book club lent itself perfectly to moving exclusively to virtual during lockdown – it already had an online strand via Facebook for those who couldn’t attend which made it seamless. The only hitch was not being able to get to the library but books are easy to source on e-readers so it wasn’t too much of an obstacle. With a fixed deadline for finishing the books, the group provided a sense of purpose and structure, as well as a degree of companionship. It also encouraged those interested in poetry to start a spin off group which opened up new avenues of learning and social connections.
The craft group surpassed itself by raising thousands for the charity through making masks amongst other things. It’s been so successful it decided to create an online Christmas stall. Aside from the funds raised, they get a huge sense of satisfaction and joy that others value their handiwork.
Obviously the more hands on social groups such as fishing couldn’t continue during lockdown but, as an accessible venue which really understood their needs had already been set up, the NMC was able to organise a couple of day trips in August and September. The group was able to socially distance around a big lake while making new friendships and learning new skills.
In August, the NMC made use of its large meadow as a safe place for first trips out post shielding which enabled physical meetings with friends and potential friends. Groups of up to five came to enjoy the space which the NMC said was a real highlight of the year. Friendships were made and rekindled and it gave everyone a huge lift.
All the groups have served as an essential checkpoint for those who might have struggled with the isolation during the pandemic. Being able to share with others how you’re getting on and what you’re going through has been hugely important for NMC community.
Testimonials from group members:
“I have thoroughly enjoyed and valued the virtual company of others in the NMC Community. I feel I have got to know people a lot more during lockdown through general chatter, cooking, and gardening club. It’s made me really appreciate my garden and I have loved taking photos of all the plants and flowers during this time. Massive thanks to everyone who has worked so hard to keep the NMC Virtual Community going.”
“I’ve also loved learning about other people’s passions and hobbies – I get a buzz from others joy and enthusiasm and it’s encouraged me to try out a few new hobbies or research new topics too.”
For more information about the work of NMC, this short film takes you behind the scenes at the Neuromuscular Centre
The NeuroMuscular Centre was one of 50 providers commissioned by Brightlife. You can read the ‘Read and Connect’
Summary Report here. Brightlife will continue to track their progress following the impact of COVID-19.
http://www.nmcentre.com 01606 860911/861799