Author: Emma Wright

Edgbaston NNS – Focus on Assets: Your Local Pantry at the Haven

The Edgbaston Neighbourhood Network is here to help all of Edgbaston’s community assets with everything from grants and funding applications to networking and promotion. That’s why Community Connectors Deb and Natalie are always on the lookout for new community projects to meet, learn from, and support! Every two months, they speak to one of our assets in depth and feature them in the the ENNS Newsletter. (You may remember the Sar Ramz Cooking Club from our December newsletter and Digikick from February.)

For the April newsletter, Deb and Natalie visited a new food pantry in Quinton.

Focus on Assets: Your Local Pantry

By Deb Ufton and Natalie Tichareva

Jade and Kerry at Your Local Pantry

For the last month, the Haven Centre and B32 Community CIC have been working behind the scenes to launch a food pantry, called ‘Your Local Pantry’. So we went along on a sunny Friday afternoon to find out more!

The Haven Centre is run by Rachel and her husband Simon, with a small team of staff and volunteers, and was already the first port of call for many local people who needed support or advice. However, when Covid hit, the team realised it was an opportunity to show the community that they were there for them. As Rachel said, “we couldn’t close the doors on people when they needed us the most”. So, for the last year, the activities and support the Haven offers have changed and grown according to local people’s needs.

Realising that there was an increased need for food, Rachel and Simon got together with Kerry and Becky from another popular Quinton community group, B32 Community CIC, and came up with the idea of a food pantry, to be based at the Haven Centre. They contacted Shabir Jivraj, Project Officer for the national organisation ‘Your Local Pantry’, and he helped them to set up.

The ‘pantry’ model enables people to access help by becoming members and paying a very small amount for food: for £4.50, members receive shopping worth between £20 and £30. The idea is to make sure no-one feels any sense of shame in accessing the essentials they need.

Your Local Pantry at the Haven has been running quietly behind the scenes for the last few Fridays, but now Rachel, Simon, Kerry and Becky hope that more people in the community who need help with food will sign up and become pantry members.

Welcoming

When we went along, pantry staff and volunteers from the Haven and B32 Community had created a welcoming environment for visitors, with Bob Marley playing on the radio and all who entered being offered a drink and a chat before accessing the pantry.

A local resident told us, “It’s a great thing! I came down during lockdown and it’s really helped. I love it so much, I’ve brought my mom too.”

It’s obvious that Your Local Pantry is a perfect complement for the other activities held at the Haven. The atmosphere at the Centre is happy and peaceful, and there’s something for everyone. In-person meetups of the long-established Older Adults Group, Youth Club, and Women’s Group are slowly being re-introduced; last week the Haven held a Stay and Play and this week they’re going to have a ‘pop up lunch’ at the Pantry.

Jade, who works at Your Local Pantry at the Haven, told us, “Work doesn’t feel like work. I first started to come to the Haven through the Women’s Group, and I really enjoyed it so I became a volunteer.”

From volunteering, Jade then became a member of staff, something which has helped her build confidence and recognise her skills. “Before I found the Haven I was in such a bad place, but I didn’t really realise I was in a bad place,” she says, “and I can see that in many of the people we help.”

We loved visiting Your Local Pantry and think it’s a great initiative, so we hope lots of people in the Edgbaston Neighbourhood community will sign up as members and make the most of it.

Your Local Pantry will be available on Fridays, 12 – 2pm, at the Haven, on Rilstone Road in Quinton. For more information, and details on how to sign up, contact the Haven Centre on 0121 681 0388, or simply keep your eyes peeled on social media – visit the Haven Centre on Facebook or B32 Community CIC on Facebook.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Your Local Pantry nationally, or setting up your own, visit the Your Local Pantry website, or contact YourLocalPantry@thrivetogetherbham.org.

Services working hand in hand

The job of Social Prescribing Link Workers is to listen to what people want and need, and then to direct them to local groups and services that can help them achieve their goals.

Sometimes, those services are also delivered by Gateway!

Glenn is a Social Prescribing Link Worker who works in the North Solihull area. So when she met a patient who needed some help with her physical activity and eating habits, who better to direct her to than the Solihull Lifestyle Service?

Social Prescribing Case Study: Pam

Glenn, a Link Worker in North Solihull
Pam* was referred to the Social Prescribing Link Workers service in January 2021, because her GP felt that she would benefit from someone listening and giving her support.

Link Worker Glenn contacted Pam straight away and they arranged a time to talk over the phone.

The following week, Glenn called Pam and they spoke for quite some time. Pam explained she has a long term health condition, and also suffers from arthritis which causes her a lot of pain. Her follow up appointments at the hospital had been pushed back due to Covid, which was causing her to feel very low. Although Pam lives with her husband, he works during the day and she told Glenn she gets very anxious on her own.

Feeling down

As they chatted, it was clear the pain Pam was enduring really got her down, and this had caused her to stop doing the things she enjoyed. She said her eating habits were poor as she didn’t have an appetite and, although her husband often tried to encourage her to go out for a little walk or sit in the garden, she hadn’t been out of the house for a year.

Glenn told Pam about the Solihull Lifestyle Service, explaining that they could offer her support and advice about diet and exercise, and she agreed to be referred to them. She was allocated a Wellbeing Advisor called April, who would be able to start working with her in a couple of weeks’ time. In the meantime, Glenn and Pam talked about exercises Pam might be able to do. She mentioned that she had a treadmill at home but didn’t use it.

Glenn shared her own experiences of arthritis. She explained how she had forced herself to try and walk each day, and had found this boosted her mental health. Pam said she felt better having someone to talk to and said she would start using her treadmill.

April, a Wellbeing Advisor with the Solihull Lifestyle Service
The next time they spoke, Pam had started using the treadmill every couple of days for 15 minutes at a time, and had started eating small, regular meals, thanks to April’s encouragement. However, she told Glenn she wanted to stop taking anti-depressants. Glenn advised her to continue until she spoke to her GP, but also told her about St Germain’s, a service that uses a cognitive behaviour approach to depression and anxiety. Pam said she was willing to give it a go and consented to a referral.

Feeling the benefits

The next time they spoke, there had been a complete turnaround. Pam was eating regular meals and exercising nearly every day. Her GP had lowered her anti-depressant dosage so she could gradually stop taking them. John from St Germain’s had sent information about CBT and exercises for her to follow, and Pam was feeling the benefits already.

In their last conversation, Pam told Glenn that both her husband and son had noticed a difference in her wellbeing. In her own words, she had “stopped feeling sorry for herself”, and said she was even looking forward to doing some gardening!

She told Glenn she would always be grateful for the support she received from all three services.

*Pam’s name has been changed

Hand in hand

As you can see, Gateway’s approach is not about duplicating support, it’s about working hand in hand. Social Prescribing is about listening, finding out what someone needs, and linking them to it. The Solihull Lifestyle advisers are the experts in helping people to eat and exercise healthily.

As well as our own services, we are constantly making new contacts with others, widening our network so that we can direct people to the most suitable local support, and “plugging people in” to their community in the most effective way.

If you run a service in Birmingham or Solihull that would like to take referrals from Link Workers, get in touch to make sure we have your details.

Dennis chatting with Leslie and Keith

In memory of Dennis Hayes

We were very sad to hear about the passing of Dennis Hayes, a member of the Patient Health Forum (the South Birmingham Long Term Conditions Group that Gateway facilitates on behalf of Birmingham and Solihull CCG). We understand that he died suddenly at home, of a suspected heart attack, at the beginning of November.

We first met Dennis in 2014, when his GP referred him to the Health Trainer service for help with his weight. He and his Health Trainer Richard had a good rapport and built up a solid relationship, staying in touch even when Dennis’ need for Health Trainer support ended.

It was Richard who suggested that Dennis might like to join the Patient Health Forum, and encouraged him to go along – which he did, becoming a regular attendee and eventually committee member. When he chatted with us in 2019, he told us that joining the group had helped him to build his confidence and reduce his anxiety.

Our thoughts go out to those who knew Dennis, especially his friends at the Forum.

A statement from the committee

Pauline Hartley shared these words on behalf of the Patient Health Forum committee:

Dennis had been a member of the PHF for some years, going from a quiet and nervous newcomer to a valued mainstay of the committee.

He learned to share what he saw as the benefits of the group because he wanted to help members gain the confidence that he felt he had done over the time he had attended. He eventually joined the committee because he felt he needed to give something back to the group that had supported him. The committee are very grateful for his hard work over the years, often in uncertain times. He sometimes surprised even himself in the way that his confidence had grown and, although we knew him as a quiet man, he could be forceful and determined if he felt it necessary.

Those of us that were lucky enough to know him outside of the group knew him to be caring, courteous, generous, practical and an interesting friend. He enjoyed going to National Trust properties, where his knowledge of history made him an ideal companion. He liked music and theatre and his wry sense of humour often lightened a meal or coffee out, something he enjoyed doing. He liked to look after his home, where he had a collection of paperweights amongst his interests. He also liked to socialise and keep as fit as possible with his friends at the gym.

He cared deeply for the people in the group and the people from Gateway and relished being able to signpost anyone towards help. He was always ready to chat and fetch that ever important cuppa.

He battled with ill health with fortitude and wasn’t afraid to ask for, or take, help. He had come to understand the complex ups and downs of physical and mental health and so was a great help to people who appreciated his empathy.

He will be missed as a PHF member and friend and everyone’s lives will be poorer for his sudden passing.

RIP Dennis.

If you knew Dennis and would like to share your thoughts or memories, you can add a comment below and it will appear underneath this article.

Social Prescribing case study: “Head in the sand”

This is the third blog post in a series highlighting some of the real life cases our Social Prescribing Link Workers have worked on this year.

The first two stories we published were from Birmingham Link Workers:

Social Prescribing case study: “Help me to sort this out!”
Social Prescribing case study: “I just want to know my son is OK”

Now it’s the turn of our Solihull team. Glenn is one of four Social Prescribing Link Workers who are based at North Solihull GP practices and, like all our Link Workers, she has been working with patients who have been referred by their GP or other practice staff for social, non-clinical needs. Since Covid hit in March, most of the work has been done via video and phone calls, with occasional visits to foodbanks, shops and pharmacies to help patients out, and the occasional distanced meet-up in parks and open areas.

Glenn told us about “Lorraine” (not her real name), who was referred for general advice and befriending, and explained how she encouraged her to deal with things one step at a time.

“No longer burying her head in the sand”: Lorraine’s story

Link Worker Glenn works in North Solihull

In June, Lorraine’s* GP referred her to the surgery’s Social Prescribing Link Worker, Glenn, for some extra support. The referral form mentioned that she may potentially need befriending, general advice and signposting (directing her to other organisations and agencies she might not have known about before).

Glenn called Lorraine shortly after receiving the referral. She asked her what had been happening in her life recently, and how she might be able to help.

Lorraine, who’s in her late 60s, told Glenn that she felt her health was suffering because of stress. So they had a long chat about it. Lorraine explained she had recently moved to Solihull from the other side of the city, and didn’t know anyone nearby, but that the main issue on her mind was debt. She told Glenn that this was causing her the biggest worry and was the source of most of her feelings of stress.

Lorraine explained that she had debts with a number of companies, including her own bank, with whom she had gone overdrawn. It had got to the stage where she admitted she now didn’t know where to start sorting it out. She was feeling overwhelmed.

The first thing Glenn did was to give her the details of Step Change, an organisation that would give her free debt advice. Then they wrote everything down to see where they could make a start. Lorraine said she didn’t have the confidence to ring the bank to talk to them about the overdraft, but Glenn gave her the encouragement she needed to make the call.

In fact, the bank were really helpful on the phone, and sent Lorraine an income and outgoings form to fill in. Lorraine and Glenn filled it in together, and this has allowed the bank to give Lorraine a repayment plan that feels positive and achievable.

The next step will be to use this information to fill in some forms for Step Change. Then Glenn will call the other places where Lorraine has debts and tell them that she is working on a budget plan with the organisation. By working methodically and making achievable plans with the help of debt specialists, Lorraine is already starting to feel more in control.

“[Lorraine] definitely feels better now that she has started to sort her debts out,” says Glenn. “She feels like she’s no longer burying her head in the sand.”

Now that Lorraine has tackled her biggest worry, she is starting to think about some of the other things she’d like to improve. She has mentioned that she’d like some help to lose weight and stop smoking, so Glenn has also referred her to the Solihull Lifestyle Service, where she will be able to work with an advisor to make more positive lifestyle changes.

*Lorraine’s name has been changed

Social Prescribing case study: “I just want to know my son is OK”

This is the second blog post in a series highlighting some of the real life cases our Social Prescribing Link Workers have worked on since they started in February.

You can read the first one, about Wayne and his patient ‘Linda’, here: Social Prescribing case study: “Help me to sort this out!”

“I just want to know my son is OK”: Chloe’s story

Becky, Link Worker

Chloe* was referred to Link Worker Becky (pictured, right) by her GP, who reported that Chloe was struggling with her mental health and a lack of routine.

When Becky contacted Chloe a few days later, it was obvious why. She said, “my baby son has been taken into care and is being adopted. I haven’t seen him for months. I just want to know if he’s OK but I’ve called and the social worker isn’t answering.”

At first, Becky simply listened.

In supported housing because of her learning difficulties and mental health needs, Chloe also told Becky she was unhappy sharing a house with people who, she felt, didn’t care about her son. She had previously lived with her son’s dad but now they were in separate houses and, because of Covid-19, they couldn’t see each other. She felt sad and isolated.

Having established that finding out about the baby was Chloe’s priority, Becky offered to call the social worker, and the next day was able to reassure her that her son was doing well. She explained that she would be sent a “settling in” letter, and helped her understand that, although she couldn’t see him, she would be able to write a letter to him every year.

Giving Chloe the space to talk about her son was vital. They discussed writing letters, or keeping a journal, and Becky has suggested setting aside a time each week to think about him and express her feelings. She’s reassured Chloe that what she’s going through is a very significant and difficult thing, and put her in touch with Karis Neighbourhood Scheme’s Listening and Guidance Service, which supports people going through loss.

Chloe really wants to move house, so Becky contacted her support worker, who told her that Chloe is in arrears and on a very low level of benefit. Clearly, budgeting isn’t easy –Chloe had already run out of food for the month – so Becky put her in touch with Ladywood Money Advice to find out if she’s on the right benefits, and what her housing options are. In the meantime, she also arranged for a one-off food parcel to be delivered.

Becky also pointed Chloe to an online social prescribing art group, which has turned out to be beneficial to both of them. Becky says, “it’s great because she enjoys the activities and it’s something for us to talk about. But the group leader has also shared a lot of Housing Association knowledge with us. We can communicate about Chloe and keep her GP in the loop too. It’s a great network.”

Chloe continues to lead her own support, but Becky expects she’ll help her with housing, budgeting support, and perhaps finding some volunteer work over the next few weeks. In the long term, she hopes Chloe will be able to make sense of the loss of her son.

Becky says, “when someone has multiple issues, it’s natural to want to do everything at once, but it’s important to focus on a person’s priorities. It’s not about rushing in with a magic wand or a sledge hammer. As Link Workers, we are able to spend time getting to know someone, understanding their needs and supporting them one step at a time.”

*Chloe’s name has been changed

Social Prescribing Link Workers and lockdown

Some of the Social Prescribing Link Workers team, pictured in February

Based at GP practices, Link Workers take referrals directly from GPs and other practice staff for Social Prescribing: offering one-to-one “whole person” support for non-medical and social issues, and helping people to access local activities and services.

We started putting together our Birmingham Social Prescribing Link Workers team in February; however, they had only been working with their local surgeries for a few weeks when Covid-19 hit and the country went into lockdown.

As more and more people started to need help, the referrals came flooding in and our Link Workers went into overdrive. As well as continuing to build relationships with their local GPs and care staff, they also continued to build their networks of local organisations and agencies, including making contact with the hundreds of new volunteer organisations and foodbanks that were popping up. And of course they were still getting to know each other as a team, albeit remotely. All work was done via video and phone calls, with occasional visits to foodbanks, shops and pharmacies to help patients out.

It has been tough, but they have done (and continue to do!) a tremendous job. In the five months they have been in their roles, our Social Prescribing Link Workers have already supported more than 400 people.

Edgbaston NNS – fundraising support survey

Are you a community group or voluntary organisation based in the Edgbaston or Northfield constituencies? Do you need help with fundraising, or want support to find suitable grants and funding opportunities?

We’ve been talking to Birmingham Community Matters, a charity which helps people develop and fund community projects, about how we could work together to provide support to members of the Edgbaston Neighbourhood Network Scheme. If you run a local activity group, social club or community organisation, we want to hear from you!

To make sure we can offer the right support, we’re asking community-run groups in Edgbaston, Harborne, Quinton, Bartley Green, Shenley and Weoley Castle to complete a fundraising survey. We have anecdotal knowledge of what local groups might need, but this survey will help us to make sure that the needs of the area shape what happens next.

Click here to complete the Fundraising Support survey.

When we have heard from as many groups as possible, we’ll put together a programme of support and let you know how you can get involved.

Want to know more about the Edgbaston Neighbourhood Network Scheme?

The ENNS is led by Gateway Family Services with Age UK Birmingham. We act as a central co-ordination point for the network, and can offer support for volunteers and groups, including access to grants. If you are a community group or local voluntary organisation based in one of the areas listed above, and you haven’t yet been in touch, contact us to find out more on 0800 599 9880, or info@gatewayfs.org, and consider joining the ENNS mailing list.

Edgbaston NNS – Focus on Assets: Quinborne Community Centre

The Edgbaston Neighbourhood Network Scheme, which launched in July, has a bi-monthly newsletter for members, which you can subscribe to here. In each edition of the newsletter, we’ll be showcasing great community assets within the Edgbaston constituency.

In this edition, Neighbourhood Network Scheme Community Worker Natalie Tichareva writes about her (socially distanced!) visit to the Quinborne Community Centre.

Focus on Assets: Quinborne Community Centre

By Natalie Tichareva

We visited the Quinborne Community Centre, a fantastic community space that provides a number of activities for local residents in Quinton and Harborne as well as its surrounding areas.

This photo, of an adult education class at the Centre, was taken before the Covid-19 distancing measures came in. Photo: Quinborne Community Centre website

The Quinborne Centre has been serving the community for over 80 years, having been established in July 1938. Since its formation the centre has been at the heart of community activity in Quinton and Harborne and today is home to a diverse variety of groups who use the centre to host activities.

On the day of our visit Colin Simmonds, one of the centres Directors, gave us a tour of the impressive building which sits on the site of the former Edgbaston Golf Club. The centre boasts multiple large meeting rooms, a nursery space, gym and dance rooms as well as café and working kitchen. At the centre of it all is a beautiful garden which offers attendees a time to relax during their breaks.

Many who attend the social activities at Quinborne have been doing so for many years; drawn to the centres large array of activities. Similarly, many of the Quinborne Centre’s staff are also longstanding, and when asked about his favourite parts of working with the centre Colin informed me that their staff and volunteers were key part of this: “everyone is so dedicated and hardworking”. One such staff member is Aaron, who greeted us on arrival alongside Quinborne Centre Manager Carl. Aaron started out as apprentice with Quinborne before working his way up to his current role as Centre Supervisor, an example of the centre’s commitment to nurturing relationships with all those find a home within its walls.

the Quinborne Centre also has a pretty garden where people enjoy spending time. Photo: Natalie Tichareva

Another of Colin’s favourite parts of working with the centre is the buzz of activity that takes place when the centre is open, “Walking into the centre on a Tuesday, which is usually our busiest day, you have all the different groups taking part in activities. The noise of it all going on is great!” Like many community centres Quinborne had to close its doors during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures. But on the day of our visit the team at Quinborne were busy getting the space prepared for re-opening to the public, which will hopefully take place in September.

A key part of the centre’s longevity has been its ability to change and adapt to meet the needs of the community, and this has remained the case through the COVID-19 pandemic. Colin informed me that staff have kept in regular telephone contact with attendees to the centre, ensuring that the social connections that keep so many people attending each week have remained during lockdown measures.

Thinking ahead to the future Quinborne Community Association will soon be launching their ‘Virtual Friendship Club’ where they will be providing isolated older adults with a tablet, training on how to use their new technology and the opportunity to join the Virtual Friendship club hosted on Zoom. The project has been funded through the Edgbaston NNS Small Grants Fund, administered by Heart of England Community Foundation. Alongside this Quinborne are keen to continue their great work while strengthening relationships with other community groups in Quinton and Harborne and are always looking for ways the most lonely and isolated in Edgbaston can be given an opportunity to engage with centre.

We wish the centre the best of luck in this and would like to thank Colin and the team for taking the time to chat to us!

Social Prescribing case study: “Help me to sort this out!”

We thought it would be interesting to highlight some of the real life cases our Social Prescribing Link Workers have worked on since they started in February. We’ll be publishing a selection of these over the next few weeks and you can read the first one, about Wayne and his patient Linda*, below.

But first, a little note about the last few months…

Social Prescribing Link Workers and lockdown

Some of the Social Prescribing Link Workers team, pictured in February

Based at GP practices, Link Workers take referrals directly from GPs and other practice staff for Social Prescribing: offering one-to-one “whole person” support for non-medical and social issues, and helping people to access local activities and services.

We started putting together our Birmingham Social Prescribing Link Workers team in February; however, they had only been working with their local surgeries for a few weeks when Covid-19 hit and the country went into lockdown.

As more and more people started to need help, the referrals came flooding in and our Link Workers went into overdrive. As well as continuing to build relationships with their local GPs and care staff, they also continued to build their networks of local organisations and agencies, including making contact with the hundreds of new volunteer organisations and foodbanks that were popping up. And of course they were still getting to know each other as a team, albeit remotely. All work was done via video and phone calls, with occasional visits to foodbanks, shops and pharmacies to help patients out.

It has been tough, but they have done (and continue to do!) a tremendous job. In the five months they have been in their roles, our Social Prescribing Link Workers have already supported more than 400 people.

“Help me to sort this out”: Linda’s story

In February, Linda’s* GP referred her to the surgery’s Link Worker, Wayne (pictured), because of her issues with hoarding.

“A hoarding disorder is where someone acquires an excessive number of items and stores them in a chaotic manner, usually resulting in unmanageable amounts of clutter. The items can be of little or no monetary value.” (source: www.nhs.uk)

When he received the referral, Wayne contacted Linda straight away and they arranged to meet up at the surgery for a chat.

They spoke for over an hour. Linda, who’s in her fifties, explained that her relationship with her parents was at the heart of her hoarding problems, and that although she was getting help from the Mental Health team, it was only short term. She told Wayne she felt alone and helpless, saying “there’s not much anyone can do to help me. I don’t know how to solve this.”

Wayne asked Linda to talk about what she really wanted. How could they work together to make her feel happier? She said, simply, “help me to sort this out.”

Wayne went online and spoke to his network of contacts to find out what was available. He quickly discovered that West Midlands Fire Service hold regular meetings run by Clouds End, a specialist organisation that helps people with hoarding behaviours.

Wayne encouraged Linda to attend, and even offered to accompany her if she wanted some support. She decided to go on her own and found the meetings to be a positive experience. The other attendees were people like her and the group sessions had a non-judgemental atmosphere. She told Wayne she felt encouraged by the support.

In the meantime, Wayne found out more about what the Fire Service could offer. The priority was Linda’s safety; because no-one had been able to get into the house for a while, there was no way of knowing if it was safe. They arranged a home visit where WMFS carried out a fire safety check and installed a new smoke alarm. Wayne also found out that WMFS have a Specialist Team who support people just like Linda. When he told her, she was over the moon and started planning for them to visit.

The next step was for Linda to start reducing the clutter in her home. She started selling items online, which has been going well; she is happy to see some cash coming her way.

Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the Fire Service Specialist Team hadn’t yet been able to visit due to the Covid-19 isolation measures, but Wayne is in regular contact with them and they will start working with her as soon as it’s safe.

Wayne continues to contact Linda every week for a chat about her wellbeing. She remains pleased with her progress and tells him she feels positive about her future.

* Linda’s name has been changed

Edgbaston Neighbourhood Network Scheme officially launches

At the start of this year, Gateway and Age UK Birmingham were appointed to lead the Edgbaston Neighbourhood Network Scheme (NNS). We were about to start planning our launch event when Covid-19 hit and the country went into lockdown.

Rather than holding an event to launch the new scheme, we dived straight into supporting community groups in the area. Our Asset Development Worker Sam, and seconded Early Help co-ordinator Marc, began co-ordinating the delivery of food parcels and other vital support to the local communities — and this is how the scheme has been running for the last four months.

Now, however, we are starting to move forward again and on 23rd June, we held the official launch of the Edgbaston Neighbourhood Network Scheme — albeit as an online meeting rather than the physical event we had originally planned.

Around 25 people came together via Zoom to discusss the original aims of the ENNS: the ways in which we can help local community, activity and social groups to sustain themselves and, if they wish to, develop further. We also talked about how things have changed since March and how we can support groups to adapt to a post coronavirus landscape.

The event was attended by representatives from Gateway, Age UK Birmingham, the Adult Social Work team, Birmingham City Council, BVSC and other agencies, but also by a mix of community groups (also known as “assets”).

After introductions and some information about the ENNS and how it can help community groups, attendees split into three “breakout rooms” to discuss issues in more detail: funding, the “three conversations” social work model, and lessons learned from Covid-19.

Natalie Tichareva, from Age UK Birmingham, said, “I think it is safe to say we were all slightly nervous about how a digital launch event would go, but in the end I do not think it could have gone better! Thank you to everyone who attended and took part in our breakout room discussions following the presentation. We have made some great links through our launch event which will be able to strengthen our work in Edgbaston going forward.”

We understand that many people weren’t able to attend, and that some of those who did attend would like the opportunity to reconvene so that they can attend the other breakout meetings, so we’ll be planning more digital get-togethers in the near future.

In the meantime, click here to download the ENNS Welcome Pack PDF, which you should be able to print as a booklet. If you don’t have access to a printer and would like a copy of this, please email info@gatewayfs.org and we’ll send you a copy.

Supporting a group during lockdown: the Patient Health Forum

The Patient Health Forum (also known as the South Birmingham Long Term Conditions Group) is a social group for people who live with, or care for people who live with, a range of long term health conditions.

Patient Health Forum meetings would normally include a presentation, like this one from Age Concern.

It’s run by a committee of volunteers but the monthly meetings, which usually take place at a community centre in Stirchley, are supported and facilitated by Gateway.

The group has been going for years now and, for many of the Forum members, the monthly meetings are a lifeline: some members live alone, or with the person they care for, and would otherwise rarely get the chance to socialise. The meetings provide a chance to meet friends and other people who are in a similar situation, as well as access to information and advice from local agencies and groups. Plus, of course, the all-important buffet lunch!

So in March, when the meetings had to be suspended, we had to make sure that we could continue supporting the group.

Switching to remote support

In mid-March, when it became obvious that gatherings would need to stop, we contacted all Forum members with the offer of a phonecall in lieu of the regular meetings. At that point, almost all of the members accepted the offer of a monthly wellbeing check or social call.

However, as you probably remember, things escalated quickly at the end of March. A week after offering the monthly calls it became clear that most members would have to isolate because they are over 70 or otherwise vulnerable. So we made the check-ins weekly. Many of the Gateway staff who’ve helped out at Forum meetings know the members quite well, and others were quick to offer befriending support, so we were very happy to do this… but it did mean that we were making weekly calls to more than 50 people.

Over the last two months, some Forum members have opted out of the calls, as they feel they already have enough support from friends, family or neighbours. But we have gladly continued to make weekly calls to the remaining members and, right now, we are continuing to support around 15 people.

What do we talk about?

Most of the calls Gateway staff make to Patient Health Forum members are social, but many are also practical. Amongst other things, we’ve helped people to have their medication delivered, register as vulnerable on the NHS website, find out more about the benefits they are entitled to, get in touch with a chiropodist, and start online shopping.

But sometimes the calls are surprising. We have found that as well as providing support, we are also empowering people, giving them the chance to be helpful to others as well as benefiting themselves. Becky, a support worker who’s been making calls, says: “One woman was fantastic about sharing her local info about food and pharmacy deliveries with me, and I have been able to pass this on to others who have also benefited. She definitely saw herself as contributing to our community knowledge rather than receiving from me.”

Kath is one of the Gateway staff making wellbeing calls.

Kath, another staff member who’s been making wellbeing calls, pointed out that the crisis itself is also having some unexpected benefits. “Some of the patients told me they had reconnected with friends and family they hadn’t spoken to for a while,” she says. “One lady was pleased she’d actually had a two hour conversation with her daughter, who had previously been too busy to visit or pick up the phone.”

And Forum members have told us how grateful they are for the continued support. Some have told us they’d been feeling a bit forgotten by services, so a chat makes all the difference.

We’re very pleased to be able to help but it’s a worrying time for people who are already socially isolated. It’s not clear yet how the future of groups like the Patient Health Forum might look – but we hope that it won’t be long before we can start safely bringing people together again.

Some more comments from members…

“This call means the world to me. It breaks up my boredom and cheers me up. I enjoy having a natter and a grumble; it stops me from getting depressed, so I look forward to it. I miss the Patient Health Forum; seeing everyone there and the lunches.”

“I’m glad for the call. I don’t have a TV in my house, just a radio, but I’d usually be out meeting my friends. Not being able to chat much to people can get lonely, but this call helps me to speak to someone.”

“This call helps me if I need additional information, or when I am not sure about things like support for my disabled daughter. I’m happy to have a chat and you’ve helped me with your advice on how to keep myself busy doing jigsaws and mandala colouring. I really miss the Patient Health Forum gatherings so thank you for checking up on me weekly, it means a lot.”

“A big thank you to you and Gateway for calling me, especially in these difficult times.”

“It’s really kind of you to check up on me and make sure I am OK. It means a lot that you’re taking the time to ring me up.”

“Great to hear that someone cares; that we are not shut up and put away. I am happy I belong to some clubs including the Patient Health Forum. They are checking up on me which is a really nice thought especially in these difficult times.”

“It means a lot to me when you call. When you don’t see people it’s lovely to get a call out of the blue and have good chat. I have been feeling lonely, and isolating does not help the situation. Thank you, I look forward to next week’s chat.”