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COVID Community Offer Blog: Non digital activities

Sarah Powers, Health and Wellbeing Team Leader at The Pioneer Group, shares how her team has helped those that are lonely, isolated or shielding in the community by creating a series of non digital activities which are fun, free, stimulating and rewarding.

As a result of COVID-19, we’ve had to dramatically rethink the way we deliver our services for the physical and mental health and wellbeing of our residents, especially the more vulnerable among us.

Our team has been working hard and coming up with new initiatives in order to try and reach the people who may need additional support during this time.

We have spoken to hundreds of residents across the Erdington and Sutton Coldfield constituencies and we understand how isolated and lonely people have been feeling.

It was clear we needed to find ways for residents to feel like they are still part of their community, whilst being able to stay safe at home when necessary.

With this in mind we came up with the idea of Wellbeing Activity Packs and applied for funding for the project through Birmingham City Council’s Vulnerable Adults grant and the Erdington Neighbourhood Networks scheme.

From previous work we have done with Ageing Better, an organisation that “wants everyone to enjoy later life,” on multiple contracts, we have plenty of experience in providing support to those that feel isolated and lonely and find it hard to leave the safety of their own home.

One of the main approaches of the Ageing Better programme is to encourage participation in an activity, with the aim of building new connections and reducing loneliness.

Some key learning we have taken from this work is around the barriers that prevent people from taking the first steps to attend an activity or event. The barriers include; lack of confidence, anxiety around meeting new people, and a worry that the level they are at in a particular activity is not the same as the level that the other people who are attending are at.

With this learning in mind, the Wellbeing Activity Packs are part of a longer-term goal at Compass Support. The initial concept is around connectivity during a time when people are very much on their own, and the future aim is to encourage people to attend the activity of their choice in a community setting once the restrictions are lifted further and things can go back to some degree of normality. In amongst this, there is the goal of encouraging new friendships and connections between participants of each activity.

The health and wellbeing team will connect people who are participating in the same activity as each other. They can then share their experiences together with the hope of forming new friendships. These friendships will allow individuals to feel supported during this time spent at home. Looking to the future these friendship could then give people the confidence to attend their activity out in the community when lockdown is over.

Residents can select from four activities including; baking, crocheting, gardening and puzzles. Every week, volunteers deliver the activity packs to participants’ homes which include everything that they need for their chosen activity.

In the baking project, participants learn to bake a basic biscuit in week one, and by week twelve they can make and decorate a large chocolate cake! Written instructions and help over the phone are available each week and all the ingredients and equipment are in each pack.

For the crochet project, residents make small elements of a large blanket each week. By the twelfth week they have a completed a large rainbow blanket that is really relevant to the current time.

The gardening project is suitable for all, even those living in flats! From planting up a hanging basket to creating a windowsill herb garden, the gardening project is a big success. We’ve even helped the residents of Phoenix Court with their new beds.

For our puzzles activity, we deliver a range of brain training items, from puzzle books to domino sets. We teach participants how to play one player games that they can complete at home on their own. In the future we aim to turn this into multiple player games in community settings, where the participants can show off their newly learnt skills.

We’ve had incredible feedback from participants already, with some saying that it has given them a reason to get up in the mornings and others saying that it has made them feel that they are cared about when they had started to feel like they had been forgotten.

For those residents that haven’t seen anyone since March, and who feel isolated and alone, our Wellbeing Activity Packs bring something new to look forward to each week.

It has been great to watch this project develop and to see the impact that it is having on local people. The team have worked incredibly hard to make this project a success and it is a testament to their passion and desire to provide support to people who need it during this time. A huge thank you to everybody that is involved!