Category: Covid-19

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.

Supporting the community through a very difficult year

St. Germain’s Church and the Emergency Supplies Grant

This is our second blog post highlighting the impact of the Emergency Assistance Grant which is being distributed by the Edgbaston Neighbourhood Network Scheme and the Heart of England Community Foundation.

Last time, we looked at how Home from Hospital Care helped ‘Brian’ by sending him free tailored food parcels.

This week, it’s the turn of St. Germain’s church who are using the money to run their community ‘Food Hub’.

St. Germain’s Community Food Hub

The church’s Food Hub uses donations to provide fresh meals and food parcels for people in Edgbaston. Each week, volunteers collect clothing and enough food for 300 meals. An Emergency Assistance Grant has allowed St Germain’s to pay their expenses.

With more money, the Food Hub have also been able to run a debt and benefits advice service, which Les Allan, St. Germain’s Operations Manager, says has been able to ‘lift the whole person up’.

Les applied for the grant in January 2021 describing the process as ‘straight forward’- adding that he loved the fact you can save your progress as you go!

He also praised Edgbaston Neighbourhood Network Scheme’s support, whose community connectors met with him over Zoom to offer hints and tips on how to focus his application.

‘The funding came just in the nick of time’, Les said, highlighting that the quick turn around between the application and receiving the money allowed St. Germain’s to keep the service running.

Les explained the impact it has, mentioning Nadia (not her real name), who had been using the Hub since the summer to feed both herself and her son who was not very well. The Food Hub has done a 360, Les explained, where Nadia is now back on her feet and even volunteering in the kitchen.

It has ‘been a very difficult year for our community’ Les noted, ‘but, thanks to this funding, our service will be able to continue supporting them.’

Funding is still available for groups and projects similar to St. Germain’s and Home from Hospital Care’s. If you are interested, get in touch with Marc Baggott at M.Baggott@gatewayfs.org to find out more. Deadline for applications is 23/4/21 (noon).

Providing a lifeline – Home from Hospital Care and the Emergency Assistance Food and Essential Supplies Grant.

Edgbaston Neighbourhood Network Scheme has been working with the Heart of England Community Foundation, supporting Edgbaston’s response to COVID-19 in distributing the ‘Emergency Food and Assistance’ grant.

‘Home from Hospital Care’, is one such charity who have received this grant. The team are using it to provide food and fuel vouchers to those discharged from hospital and living in Edgbaston.

Dawn, Fundraising Officer at Home from Hospital Care, made the application which she says she found easy, complimenting the website and support from their local NNS development worker.

One month after the application, Home from Hospital Care had received the funding, and were able start helping people.

‘It’s going pretty well so far’, says Rosalind Ejenavi, Fundraiser at Home from Hospital Care. The grant has allowed them to support two more people in Edgbaston in the last two weeks.

Brian (not his real name) was discharged from hospital into temporary accommodation after deteriorating health issues alongside his contraction of COVID-19. However, he has quite complex needs, including an eating disorder, and financial difficulties. 

Thanks to the extra funding, Home from Hospital Care has been able to provide Brian with free, tailored food parcels. The fact they cost him nothing and allowed him to choose what he received has been, as Rosalind puts it, a ‘lifeline for him’.

Brian now feels less worried whilst he recovers from COVID-19 and is being supported in making longer term support and accommodation plans.

‘COVID has made people feel so anxious about how they are going to meet their basic needs’ Rosalind noted, who said she hoped this grant would give people the ‘sense that there is support there’.

Funding is still available for groups in Edgbaston and Northfield, with the extended deadline for applications now falling on the 23rd April 2021. Contact Marc Baggott at M.Baggott@gatewayfs.org to find out more on how to apply, and what guidance Edgbaston Neighbourhood Network Scheme can provide.

Helping a family in crisis to build a new life

Early Help Edgbaston Community Connectors Adwoa and Justin with Link Worker Abeda
After last week’s post about the Early Help team’s hard work over Christmas, we thought we’d share the story of one of the many Edgbaston families they’ve been supporting.

The Early Help system was set up by Birmingham Children’s Partnership as part of their COVID-19 response. Ten Early Help teams — one in each of Birmingham’s ten ‘localities’ — co-ordinate help for families and children across Birmingham. Gateway Family Services co-ordinates the Early Help response in Edgbaston.

Since then, Early Help Edgbaston has directly supported over 340 families, providing them with emergency food and financial support, and connecting them to Edgbaston’s local services.

“Tanya” (not her real name) was one of the first people to access support.

Tanya’s Story

In May 2020, Tanya* was given the number for Early Help Edgbaston by a member of staff at her children’s school, who felt the family needed extra support. When she called, she told Gateway’s Early Help Co-ordinator Marc that she had left her partner due to domestic abuse, and that she and her five children were now living in a hostel.

After listening to Tanya’s concerns, Marc began to connect her to local services which could support the family. First, he contacted The Active Wellbeing Society to start getting regular food parcels delivered to them. He also referred Tanya to the Karis Neighbour Scheme, which runs a baby bank. The charity provided Tanya with nappies, baby clothes and wipes to help her care for her two youngest children.

Toiletries, clothes, mobile data… and a place to live

A week later, Marc called Tanya again to see what other help she needed, and she explained she was finding it difficult to afford some essentials. As well as toiletries and children’s clothes, she also needed mobile data so that she could contact friends, family and other support from home during the lockdown.

So Marc contacted the The Active Wellbeing Society again and arranged for the family to receive some clothes from their ‘Wear and Share’ project. He also put together an application for a small amount of money from the Birmingham Children’s Partnership Resilience Fund, which Tanya could put towards data.

With some of her anxieties now reduced, Tanya was able to focus on finding a more permanent housing solution. With the help of her Social Worker and Birmingham’s Housing teams, the family were able to move into semi-permanent accommodation within a couple of months.

A happier Christmas

Although the family was now living in a different area, Tanya’s Social Worker and the Early Help Co-ordinator for that locality stayed in touch with the Early Help Edgbaston team to keep them updated.

In December Marc learned that, although the family was doing better, it was unlikely that Tanya would be able to afford Christmas dinner or any presents for the children. He therefore arranged for Tanya to be included in Gateway’s Christmas Campaign – a series of events to support families over the holidays.

Each family hamper filled the boot of Marc’s car
With support from Tesco, who donated food, and a toy drive co-ordinated by InUnity and Birmingham Forward Steps, Early Help Edgbaston was able to give Tanya and her family a Christmas hamper, which included a Christmas dinner, a board game and some toys for the children. When Tanya saw how much was in the hamper she seemed shocked and very grateful.

The Early Help Edgbaston team was able to support Tanya’s family through a crisis by connecting her to local services and giving her specific, practical help. Now, with fewer worries about their basic essentials, she is able to start building a new life for herself and her children.

*Tanya’s name has been changed

More information

If you are a family in need of support, or an organisation helping families during the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit the Early Help Edgbaston pages on our website, call Early Help Edgbaston on 0121 456 7821 or email earlyhelpedgbaston@gatewayfs.org to talk to our team.

Birmingham Foodbanks over Christmas

If you need food over the Christmas period see a list below of Birmingham, Solihull and Sandwell’s foodbanks and their opening times.

For most of the foodbanks you will need a voucher, for information on how to get one please contact the following organisations:

    • The Active Wellbeing Society: 0121 728 7030
      • Opening times:
      • Thursday 24th December: 08:00 to 16:00
        Friday 25th December: 10:00 to 14:30
        Saturday 26th December: 10:00 to 12:30
        Sunday 27th December: Closed
        Monday 28th December: 10:00 to 15:00
        Tuesday 29th December: 10:00 to 15:00
        Wednesday 30th December: 10:00 to 15:00
        Thursday 31st December: 10:00 to 15:00
        1st January: Closed
        2nd January: 10:00 to 15:00
        3rd January: Closed
    • The Trussell Trust : 01722 580 180
      • For more information about contacting The Trussle Trust over the festive period follow this link.

Birmingham:

Selly Oak:

B30 Foodbank

(Voucher needed)

Open Friday 1st January (Closed Friday 25th December and Tuesday 29th December) Cotteridge Quaker/Friends Meeting House

23a Watford Rd, Cotteridge B30 1JB

The Life house Closed 21st December -4th January

 

Ladywood:

Aston and Nechells

(Voucher needed)

The Elim Church Wednesday 30th December 13.00-15.00, The Elim Church St Margaret’s Rd, Ward End B8 2BA
The Salvation Army Centre Friday 1st January 12.30 – 14.30. The Salvation Army Centre, Gladstone St, Aston B6 7NY

Edgbaston:

Quinton and Oldbury Foodbank

(Voucher Required)

Closed 24th December – 6th January St Boniface Church
Quinton Road West
Quinton,
B32 2QDThe Coffee Shop
151 Castle Road West
Oldbury, Sandwell
B68 0EL
Smethwick Foodbank

 

(Voucher needed)

Tuesday 22nd December 12-2pm

Thursday 24th December 12-2pm

Tuesday 29th December 12-2pm

Thursday 31st December 12-2pm

Church Hill Street
Smethwick
West Midlands
B67 7AH
Central Birmingham Foodbanks

 

(Voucher needed)

Tuesday 29th December, 9.30 – 11.30 am

Tuesdays 5th January, 9.30 – 11.30 am

Friday 8th January, 10 – 1.30 pm

Birmingham City Church
Parade
Birmingham
B1 3QQ
(car park on Helena Street, B1 2AW)
St. Germains Thursday 24th December: 12-2.30pm Food Parcels only

25th December 12-1pm Take away Christmas Dinner

Wednesday 30th December 12-2.30pm

Monday 4th January 12-2.30pm

Friday 11th January 12-2.30pm

(Closed 28th December, 1st January)

180 Portland Road B16 9TD

 

Hall Green:

Highfield Hall Food Bank Open everyday except bank holidays (25th December, 28th December and 1st January) Please call in advance of visiting to request a food parcel

Telephone: 0121 439 2690

Email: info@highfieldhall.org.uk

Food parcels at Daar-ul-Jannah Advice Centre Closed 24th-28th December. Telephone: 0121 792 5442

Mobile: 07847661022 861

Address: Stratford Road, B28 8BH.

Incredible Surplus food parcels

(No voucher required, pay as you feel)

Balsall Heath Farm

 

Tues, Weds, Thurs 12–1.30pm Address: Malvern Rd, B128NN
Kings Heath Community Centre Mon & Fri 12pm-2pm

(Except bank holidays 25 December, 28th December and 1st January)

Address: 8 Heathfield Rd
Sparkhill food bank

(Voucher needed)

Sparkhill & Hall Green Wednesday 23rd 14.30-17.30

Wednesday 30th 14.30-17.30

Tel: 0121 708 1398

 

Website: https://sparkhill.foodbank.org.uk/

Balsall Heath Church Centre Thursday 24th 11-1pm

Thursday 31st 11-1pm

Smethwick

Holy Trinity Church

 

(Voucher needed)

Tuesday and Thursdays 12.00-14.00 Church Hill Street

Smethwick

West Midlands

B67 7AH

Erdington

George Road

(Voucher needed)

Tuesday 12.00-14.00 George Road Baptist Church, George Road, B23 7RZ
Six Ways Baptist Church

(Voucher needed)

Thursday 12.00-2.00 Six Ways Baptist Church, Wood End Road, B24 8AD

Solihull

Kingfisher Foodbank

(Voucher needed)

Shard End Wellbeing Centre Closed 24th December and 31st December

 

(Usual opening times are Thursday 12.30-2.30)

Shard End Wellbeing Centre

(the old Community Centre)

170 Packington Avenue

Shard End

Birmingham

B34 7RD

Smiths Wood Closed 25th December and 1st January

 

(Usual opening times are Fridays and Tuesdays 12.30-2.30pm)

Auckland Hall

Sunbeam Close

Smiths Wood

Birmingham

​B36 9JR

Sandwell

For information on Foodbanks in Sandwell and how to access vouchers go to https://www.blackcountryfoodbank.org.uk/locations/.

Edgbaston NNS – Focus on Assets: Sar Ramz Cooking Club

The Edgbaston Neighbourhood Network (ENNS) supports older people in Birmingham connect with others in their local neighbourhood, and is led by Gateway, together with Age UK Birmingham. So our ENNS Community Connectors are always on the lookout to find great community work and learn from it, as well as helping them with whatever they need, from funding applications to networking. Every two months we feature one of our “assets” – the activity and community groups in Edgbaston who are doing great things for the neighbourhood.

One inspiring group has been working hard over the last year, in the face of Covid-19, to support its community by running a Virtual Cooking Club. The Sar Ramz cooking club developed out of the Edgbaston Multicultural Community Group, led by Nadima Vasi, and provides recipes, tutorials and much needed social support to the Edgbaston community.

Community Connector Natalie spoke to Nadima to hear more about how she used the Sar Ramz Cooking Club to bring people together, and you can read her report below.

For more stories and updates about our Edgbaston Neighbourhood Network Scheme, and to find out how we can support local assets like Sar Ramz, please subscribe to the ENNS newsletter by clicking this link. 

From Cooking Club to Virtual Cooking Community

By Natalie Tichareva

In early 2020 Nadima, who runs the Multicultural Community Group based at Edgbaston Community Centre, received a grant from the Ageing Better in Birmingham programme to run a series of cooking classes, which she called Sar Ramz Cooking Club.

Sadly, soon after receiving the grant, COVID-19 hit the UK and the social distancing restrictions meant that the cooking classes were unable to go ahead in person. Undeterred, Nadima began to contact people in her group to check on their wellbeing, and started to think through ways she could adapt her activity to keep the Sar Ramz Cooking Club going.  

The Multicultural Community Group already had an active WhatsApp group for members so, instead of hosting cooking classes in person, Nadima began to post cooking tutorials and recipes onto WhatsApp for Sar Ramz members: the Sar Ramz Virtual Cooking Club.

These tutorials were incredibly popular. Soon, other members began following Nadima’s recipes, sharing their own, and taking part in tutorials through WhatsApp video calls.  

Throughout the first lockdown, the Sar Ramz Virtual Cooking Club grew from strength to strength. Now, it’s much more than a cooking club; it’s a thriving WhatsApp community, bringing people together through a shared love of food, culture and inclusion. Through the Sar Ramz WhatsApp group, Nadima also hosts weekly quizzes and prayer nights, and hosts virtual celebrations for members to observe religious and cultural events. 

With Birmingham currently under Tier 3 Coronavirus restrictions, there are no plans to put the group, which has been an important social support for many, on pause. As Nadima says, “COVID19 has changed our lives and we will always be more alert about how we live and approach people, but I feel this has brought people closer, we value and appreciate each other more.”   

Going forward the Edgbaston NNS team will be working with the Sar Ramz Cooking Club to support it with applications to our small grants and micro-grant funds. We would like to thank our colleagues at Ageing Better Birmingham for introducing us to Nadima and her wonderful group.  

COVID restrictions: FAQs for voluntary, community and faith organisations

If you run a community group or organisation in Birmingham, it’s important for you to know that voluntary sector activity is still allowed, and that you can continue to support those in need in the city, as long as you do so safely.

In most cases, you will simply need to follow the government guidance for that activity. However, some activities do not clearly fall into a set of guidelines.

FAQs for community organisations

To try and support all types of voluntary and community activities, Birmingham Voluntary Service Council (BVSC) has produced a set of Frequently Asked Questions for voluntary, community and faith organisations.

Please note that the document sets out the understanding of the current situation from BVSC, but each venue, organisation and activity lead needs to consider their own circumstances and current official guidance.

Current official guidance

The single most important action we can all take to fight coronavirus is to stay at home, to protect the NHS and save lives. When we reduce our day-to-day contact with other people, we reduce the spread of the infection. That is why, from Thursday 5 November until Wednesday 2 December, you must:

  1. Stay at home, except for specific purposes.
  2. Avoid meeting people you do not live with, except for specific purposes.
  3. Close certain businesses and venues.

These new measures will reduce the growth rate of the virus, which will:

  • prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed
  • ensure schools, colleges and universities can stay open
  • ensure that as many people as possible can continue to work

For the latest government guidance, visit https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus.

New Covid-19 guidelines for Birmingham, Solihull and Sandwell

An outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has been identified in Birmingham, Sandwell and Solihull. That means some local restrictions are coming into place this week:

New local guidelines from 15th September

If you live in Birmingham, Solihull or Sandwell: from tomorrow, Tuesday 15 September, you should not:

  • host people you do not live with, in your home or garden, unless they’re in your support bubble*
  • meet people you do not live with, in their home or garden, whether inside or outside of the affected areas, unless they’re in your support bubble*

*A support bubble is where a household with one adult joins with another household (on an exclusive basis).

New national guidelines from 14th September

From today (Monday, 14 September), residents will also need to comply with the new ‘rule of six’ national restrictions, where it is against the law to meet people you do not live with in a group larger than six (apart from specific exemptions listed in the national guidance).

Residents should follow government advice around ‘hands, face, space’ and getting tested, including:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use hand sanitiser
  • Wear a face covering in appropriate scenarios (if you’re not exempt)
  • Be aware of others not in your household and manage your space as much as possible. Always stay 2 metres away from people you don’t live with – or 1 metre with extra precautions (such as wearing a face covering)

If you, or someone in your household, have Covid-19 symptoms, it is very important that you stay home and book a test by calling 119 or visiting nhs.uk.

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

Working together to provide a ‘lifeline’

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and we thought we’d mark it with a story from one of our Social Prescribing Link Workers, Becky (pictured).

Becky is one of 15 Link Workers employed by Gateway in partnership with SDSmyhealthcare and The North Solihull Collaborative. Each one is attached to a PCN (a group of GP surgeries) and, in ‘normal’ times, would be working from surgeries to provide support to patients at face-to-face appointments. Link Workers are there to help with people’s social, rather than clinical, needs: listening, understanding, and connecting people to community groups and statutory services for practical and emotional support. Currently, all of their support is done over the phone or via video calls.

Last week, Becky told us about Brian*. We thought that the story, although sad, was a reminder that “support” can be as simple as being there for someone, and noticing if they go quiet. It’s also a really good example of the importance of good relationships between our Link Workers, local community groups, and the patient’s GP.

Brian says Social Prescribers have been a ‘lifeline’

By Becky Cuthbert, Social Prescribing Link Worker

More than six weeks into lockdown, and it’s starting to take its toll. We are all feeling it and so are the patients I’ve been supporting.

I had been phoning one patient, Brian, every other day, but one day I just couldn’t get him to answer. This was a cause for concern because during previous conversations Brian had gone into a lot of detail, sharing his mental health struggles over the years, previous suicidal thoughts, chronic anxiety, drug use, insomnia and what he described as his ‘mental breakdowns’. Why wasn’t he picking up, or messaging me? What if he was relapsing?

I phoned a contact from the local art-based social prescribing group who had referred Brian to Gateway’s Social Prescribing service. She had not been able to get hold of him either and had similar concerns. This confirmed that it was time to get in touch with his GP and ask them to do some follow up.

I’m grateful that, of the various practices I work with, Brian belongs to a surgery where the Practice Manager and GPs understand my role and value Social Prescribing’s contribution to holistic care. I emailed the Practice Manager and the Clinical Lead about the safeguarding concerns I had.

The next day I received a reply letting me know that they’d been able to contact Brian. He had apologised for the lack of contact and shared that he had been retreating into himself more and more, telling the GP that my colleague (from the art project) and I have been ‘lifelines’ for him recently.

Brian has decided that he needs more support for his mental health and the GP is now working that through with him.

This shows our system working and joining up to provide a safety net. Most importantly, Brian knows he is cared for and that he hasn’t been forgotten – and that means a lot for his mental health.

Since then, Brian has texted and had a long call with me. He says, ‘you don’t know what it means that you care and that you notice’.

It is wonderful to contribute to a very caring, human network of care. Brian can see that I work closely with other partners and with his GP, and that we have a high level of trust and a shared vision between us: a ‘community of care’. I believe that our patients can perceive this and it all helps convey the important message, ‘you matter’. We are not claiming that a few phone calls are enough to bring full health and wholeness to Brian’s complex mental health issues, but they could have been enough to prevent deterioration, and been the start of him getting more help. Like he said, it’s a ‘lifeline’.

I often say to people that Social Prescribing is simple really, there’s nothing very big or clever about it. It’s about doing small things, but doing them well. It’s a challenge when working from home, but going forward I know I need to continue to invest in my relationships with all the Practices I work with and to spread the vision of the big impact that Social Prescribing can have.

 

*Brian’s name has been changed.