Calderdale Council has set up a programme to tackle loneliness that is based in local communities – there are separate locality teams. Workers are employed to support local activities and groups and connect people referred into the programme with opportunities that suit them. One of the major strengths of the programme is that it is driven by local people who know their communities the best.
What was done?
The Staying Well Programme commissioned by Calderdale Council first started in 2014 as a pilot to help tackle loneliness and social isolation. It is now well-established covering the whole of the borough.
The way the programme is set up is designed to make the most of community assets. It covers five localities with anchor organisations delivering the project with a mixture of council and voluntary sector staff. This has meant they all work in different ways to reflect the unique needs and assets in each area.
Staying Well Team Manager Rachel Swaby said: “It helps us to tap into community assets be it individuals, groups or places. There is so much local knowledge, energy and enthusiasm in our communities. By letting each locality make the most of what is already there we have been able to build a service that is making a real difference to people’s lives.”
To help, each locality has a micro-commissioning budget, funded from a variety of external sources and grants, that has helped support activities. The budget has ensured there is a thriving range of activities for people to take part in from chat and craft groups to gardening schemes, walking football and luncheon clubs.
Each locality also has two Staying Well workers who deal with referrals in from GPs, nurses and social care staff – although self-referrals are also accepted. The workers help people find local activities as well as volunteering opportunities. They can accompany them on their first visits if asked.
The workers also help support community activities, sometimes working alongside them or helping to connect them with other services. For example, Healthy Minds, an independent charity in Calderdale which runs mental health support groups, has been helped to run activities in GP practices in one area.
Abrar Hussain, who is the lead for the Central Halifax Staying Well locality and works for Halifax Opportunities Trust, a community organisation, says the locally-based approach is a “'real strength', it means the programme reaches parts others cannot. We are part and parcel of the community - we run children’s centres, employment support, training and wellbeing initiatives. It means we can knit all these things together to support people who are referred into Staying Well."
We were doing some of this before Staying Well, but being part of the programme, having access to the community fund and the overall wider vision means we can have a bigger impact than we would on our own.
An evaluation of the Staying Well Programme by the University of Sheffield said it was having a “positive impact” on people’s lives. It said the support provided had been “instrumental” in helping them rebuild their lives after adverse events, helping to reduce social isolation and loneliness.
One of the biggest successes has been the number of local residents who have been encouraged to volunteer which is helping to keep people socially active as well as giving something back to the communities and helping ensure the activities remain sustainable.
One of those who has got involved is Susie. She was feeling socially isolated and depressed when a Staying Well worker introduced her to a local “brew and chat” group. From there she started volunteering at a café for people with dementia and then a community centre, helping to organise events. She says it has transformed her life. “I am about and about and involved. I love it.”
The programme has an impressive reach. In the year before the pandemic the service received more than 600 referrals. But the impact of Staying Well is much greater than that.
Ms Swaby said: “By supporting local groups and activities we ensure there are plenty of opportunities for local people to keep socially active. They do not need a referral to get involved with them – so many people are taking part without coming through Staying Well.”
Ms Swaby said one of the most crucial elements is ensuring the voice of local people is heard. Community panels have been set up across Calderdale. Initially this was on a ward level, but is now done over slightly larger geographies.
The panels are used to help decide what activities and groups are funded as well as what support should be given by the Staying Well workers.
Ms Swaby said: “It is really important to have this sort of forum to get feedback. For example, we wanted to start a men’s fitness group and when we discussed it at a panel one of the members was adamant we had chosen the wrong site. He pointed out that men were already meeting regularly at a rugby club so there was already a captive audience. He was right – and it means take-up of the class is going to be much higher.
“It can be a bit time-consuming and require plans to be re-drawn, but I think it makes what we are doing more effective. The local community really believe in what we are doing and support us because they are part of it.”
She said one of the ongoing challenges with this sort of programme is transport. “How we get people to and from activities. Some have their own transport that helps, but not all. Many of the people we work with are not confident or able to use public transport so we have often found ourselves having conversations about using taxis.
It is quite common to find people resistant to them – they see them as an indulgence. But sometimes people need a bit of encouragement.
If the taxi is allowing them to do something that can make a big difference to their quality of life then they can be worth the cost.
The pandemic caused disruption to the activities that were available, but it did allow Staying Well to develop a telephone-based befriending service.
The programme recruited the volunteers who had been used to deliver shopping and medicines to the clinically vulnerable people who were shielding in the first lockdown.
Over the last six months 400 people have been provided with support by the service. Ms Swaby said: “It is something we had always wanted to do. Now activities are returning, we are thinking how we position the service. I would like to see it move to a face-to-face model for some.
“But our priority now is to get all those activities and groups back up and running. We have started to hold some events – it is a slow process, but we will get there.”