How groups help create purpose and structure - Chris McClelland

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. 01606 860911/861799

Loneliness blog - by Christine McMahon

It struck me this week how mainstream TV presenters are all talking about the impact of social isolation and loneliness on people’s health and mental wellbeing as one of the main consequences of Covid-19.

People can become very lonely when isolating from their communities and families. We are told this is the ‘new normal’. But for many, feelings of loneliness have been the everyday normal for many years.

When I first started working at Brightlife, you would rarely hear loneliness being discussed on Breakfast TV or lifestyle programmes… because only a few years ago, there was still a stigma around saying you felt lonely … as if you were attention-seeking or partly to blame (particularly for the older generation who were brought up to just ‘get on with it’).

But if any good has come out of this pandemic it is a new understanding around loneliness; that it is a serious health issue that requires professional, person-centred support.

I’m also beginning to appreciate how all the work we’ve been doing at Brightlife for the past 5 years is now helping people understand the mental challenges of the pandemic.

There’s still a lot of research going on to understand the ‘internal’ experience of loneliness as outlined in the Campaign to End Loneliness Report The Psychology of Loneliness: why it matters and what we can do. This has never been more relevant. If people can understand and identify their negative thoughts and feelings (which become overwhelming over time) and focus on positive psychology, mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, the risk of loneliness is reduced.  

Nobody should ever suffer alone. There is support out there and if people are feeling lonely, they should reach out to professionals, family, friends and community.  With the support of the Campaign to End Loneliness, Age UK Cheshire, Silver Sunday, Cheshire West and Chester Council and with funding from The National Lottery Community Fund, Brightlife continues to support people out of loneliness.

We do understand how you are feeling and we can help you.  So please get in touch.